It’s Alive!

When I was very young – teens – I read this book that said that people’s life-pattern is set by their favorite fairytale.  I’m not sure how insane this is – exactly – or where the psychologist who wrote it got the idea, but I have the vague memory he also thought potty-training was all important, so it would seem to be a variant of Freudianism.

Anyway, at the time I thought “oh, good gosh, my favorite” or at least most often heard “fairytale was Little Red Riding Hood in the traditional version, which really doesn’t end well for anyone.”  Of course, one would have to define “favorite” since I remember starting to cry when mom started telling it, and I remember being terrified of an embroidered picture of Little Red at the bottom of grandma’s stairs.

But lately – actually since I started re-doing Noah’s Boy – I’ve been thinking if this were true, my real ur-story would be Snow White.

I’ve mentioned before that years ago, during – arguably – the worst year of my life, an old friend/mentor told me my books weren’t good enough because I wasn’t writing things I was passionate about.

He was wrong.  He was, however, also right.  I think he was seeing the effect, but had no clue what I was doing to make it wrong, so he assumed I was writing in the wrong genre/field/subject, and if only I wrote what I really loved, all would be well.  (This is a fallacy writers are prone to believe in, btw.  It’s so comforting.  We want to believe the love we put behind a book/story/idea comes through.  Alas, nine times out of ten, both as a writer and as someone who talks to other writers, the book we love gets a tepid reception, the one we dashed off while shivering with fever because it was due will get people mobbing us for autographs.  Yes, there are reasons for this.  No, I’m not going into them now.  They’re not germane to this discussion, because that was not what was keeping my writing down, as it were.)

I was very upset at the time, because I couldn’t figure out what I could do if the books sounded like I didn’t care.  I cared.  I cared like heck.

Only… only….

Only I was caught in a spiral of sorts…

You see, I went to school in a Marxist system, where the answer had to accord with Marxist theory.  It teaches you double think.  It teaches you to read the teacher/professor and play to what they want.   You do it, or you flunk.

Getting into publishing wasn’t much different.  You still had to play to expectations.  I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think publishers thought they were controlling content.  But they were.  They still are to an extent.  There are still things that would never get accepted.

This is the problem: the danger of double think is that it twists your brain.  You aren’t thinking logically, or even about what you believe.  You’re not feeling your character’s path without interference.  Instead, a part of your brain is being logical about it, and following logical thoughts… the other part of your brain is analyzing how a publishing house will react to this, how this will affect their perception of your political leanings, how this will affect your long-term career, how–

It’s everywhere.  You can’t think from A to B, because you throw in D to throw people off the trail of how you really feel about it, then you take an excursion through E so that the other people don’t think you’re an idiot, and then…

But Sarah, you’re not writing political thrillers.

No.  That might have been easier, frankly.  Instead, I was tripping over all the shibboleths relating to: women vs. men; colonized and colonizers; view of peasants in history; political and governing theory… etc, etc.

If you’ve been trained in the type of system where you have to hide everything you think in order to pass/survive/thrive, you sense pitfalls and traps where people raised in a free system would never see them.  That awareness kept me writing and selling for years.

It also did something else, though – and I can’t even explain how, because, again, most of my writing is not social or political – it dulled and distanced the resulting prose.

Circumstances forced me to start admitting my opinions to myself and others about two years ago.  It’s been a long, slow process and one in many ways I still wish hadn’t happened.

Except for my writing.  There is no explanation for this.  NONE.  But my writing now is more alive, more intense, more… me than it ever was before.

It wasn’t/isn’t a conscious process, and frankly, for all I know, it might only be visible to me – but since I stopped trying to anticipate how publishers would think/guess/view what I had to say – it seems to have made my writing more decisive, self-confident, more individual.

I realized this as I looked at Noah’s Boy and figured out how, by following the outline written more than two years ago, I was balking the story of its true outlines.  It literally is easier at this time to write things true to themselves than to try to force them.

Is there a difference or is it all in my mind?

Who knows?  I know that by being able to dream and think without worrying about whether it finds a publisher or not, I’ve become more myself and perhaps Terry Pratchett was right, perhaps the whole point of life is to be yourself as hard you can.

Or perhaps I’m imagining the whole thing.
One way or another this I can tell you: I feel better since there is the possibility of indie, even when I don’t use it.  And I think clearer.

For that I’m grateful.  Yes, indie has its drawbacks, in terms of what you have to learn and how you have to operate, (more on that towards the end of the week) but for this much I’m grateful: it has broken my mind out of its chains.

For now, it is enough.

*No, I didn’t get around to doing the post publicizing my commenters.  I apologize.  I seem to be working on a head cold, as well as trying to get ready for Texas.  I will try to post that later today.*

116 thoughts on “It’s Alive!

  1. I hope your head cold goes away quickly. (I have no brain to say more; the kid was sick all last week and the weekend, and is frankly not fully well right now, and though we took her to school, I am awaiting the phone call around 8 or so that will summon me to go pick Ms. Queasy up again. Meanwhile, I got to bed around 1 in the morning and the alarm went off at 5:40.)

  2. But is Texas ready for you?

    Heck yeah! We rolled out the red carpet in the form of a cool wave. I just hope it lasts through the weekend!

    I wonder if “PC” isn’t the American version of Marxist repression? Whatch what you say . . . . you Racist!

  3. Hope you feel better as the week progresses.
    I found that our higher education in the US has that taint of “write what the professor wants to hear.” I didn’t. However, I was always worried that I would be dinged on my opinions. I was. But I would still get an A… and since the college I went to didn’t distinguish between A+, A, or A-, I did quite well.

    The degree helped me to write. It did not help me write fiction. I spent years trying to put together the elements so that I could write a good story. I was telling stories since I was a young child. But, oral storytelling and writing can be quite different.

    So I understand about the prose. Sometimes I think the prose is dull, but when I let someone else read it, they don’t see anything wrong with it.

    Good luck – and good writing.

    1. When I was young, I thought that my life was remarkably like the Cinderella fairytale, except I was the one that pulled myself out of the drudgery and not a man. I did find my hubby later, much later. By then my fairytale was the self-sufficient intelligent woman.

      I had that next fairytale broken when I went into the hospital and was put on chemo.

      1. You’re in the “unloved child seeks her fortune” fairy tale, the kind with a heroine named Clever Annie or Molly Whuppie. If you want to keep the story going after the happy ending stage, of course the child has to have some misfortune later. (Frex, Aladdin losing everything and everybody he loved, and having to run down the magician who did it to him.)

        I know this isn’t much comfort, but at least you haven’t been eaten or turned into a laily worm or anything like that.

  4. That is the terrifying part of the system: being forced to monitor what you say, so that you don’t find out a trusted friend or family member has sold you out to the authorities.

    Of course, said authorities weren’t necessarily diligent in making sure your betrayer was providing true information – faked information would do just as nicely. And if you really annoyed the state, the faked information could be easily documented, for ‘proof.’

    People who have not lived with the fear don’t really get it.

    1. I remember hearing about how in East Germany during the Cold War, that the East German state turned the children against the parents as informers. I can only understand that fear as an intellectual exercise. However… it scares me to think of it.

    2. There are certain places where the power of PC is strong enough in the US that those who disagree have to think very carefully about what is said around whom. Sometimes to the point of making certain that particular books and journals do not appear on one’s desk or in one’s satchel, making the right sounds and responses to certain pronouncements by superiors even when one strongly disagrees with them, and having to use pen-names and ‘Net names (multiple) at times when one words or posts an opinion that the larger body might deem offensive. Or having the wonderful moment of scrambling for a defense and justification if someone question attendance at a particular house of worship, since it was/is reputed to be “conservative.”

      1. Yes. Very much so. And if you look at my update, I might just have got in deep trouble. I suppose Baen couldn’t care less. And I’ve already broken with the other guys…

        1. here are certain places where the power of PC is strong enough in the US that those who disagree have to think very carefully about what is said around whom.

          Case in point; in my zombe apoc novel, I have a world in which they refer to the undead as “trannies” (from “translife”…yes, there’s an explanation). None of the American alpha readers had much of a problem with that, including a couple hereabouts. However, the Brits that have read it found that to be extremely insulting to the lesbian/gay/transgender community.

          1. I dunno — if you referred to inflammable mummies as “fags,” the British folks probably wouldn’t bat an eye, while the Americans would likely yelp! (And meanwhile, a guy with a fanny pack, wearing pants, makes those folk across the Pond snicker quietly to themselves!)

            1. I wonder how often Scottish people (particularly those who do some sort of traditional display or production, so are more used to thinking in terms of kilts) hear or read “fanny pack” and think, “What a strange name for a sporran.”

              1. Ok, after posting that, I realized – probably none, since that’s typically a male accoutrement.

              2. Weeeell, since “fanny” has a rather more intimate meaning in Brit slang than in US, they probably make a few NC-17 jokes about tourists with “fanny packs” while raising the per yard price on the kilt material.

        2. “Baen couldn’t care less”?

          Depends on whether it sells books, doesn’t it? Baen knows what business it is in and does not imagine it is chartered to Enlighten the World … which just might facilitate world enlightenment through engaged discussion.

    3. It’s the same in writing and being in the “right crowd.” Stray from the orthodoxy and they can finish your career by shutting you out.

      Or at least they used to be able to…

  5. Something else popped into my head as I was reading this. I think I understand why most publishing houses, beginning about 1980, began publishing dystopian SciFi, and rejecting the type of work done by earlier writers. Much of science fiction revolves around Man leaving his home system and going elsewhere. This requires huge new discoveries in the sciences, far beyond what we’ve accomplished so far. Too many people associate such scientific advancements as ‘disturbing’, and moving out into space as colonialism of the worst sort. Bad, bad, humans, wanting to colonize somewhere else – look at how badly that worked in Africa, Asia, Latin America. Bad, bad, bad.

    To quite a number of our “intelectual superiors”, science itself is bad – it leads to industry that rapes and destroys the planet. Again, humans are bad, “nature” is good. Of course, these same people have never taken a zoology course, or even an advanced biology course, and don’t understand the law of the jungle – little creatures eat smaller creatures, and are in turn eaten by larger ones, or by packs of medium sized creatures. Nature is filled with blood-letting, even without human intervention. The dystopians only see HUMANS as bad, because we have moved up to doing slaughter wholesale, to feed everyone, rather than our family or tribe. As Ronald Reagan said, it’s not that the left doesn’t know stuff, it’s that much of what they know is wrong. It reaches down into all aspects of our society, even publishing.

    Maybe with the Internet breaking the chains and freeing us all to be ourselves, instead of some leftist puppet, we can also break the current cycle of stupidity.

    1. I don’t remember where I first saw some version of this question, but it did impress me: what makes a beaver dam ‘natural’, and a highway ‘unnatural’? We are animals, both of us, beavers and humans. We both do things to our environment. If you condemn a creature for changing its environment, then you pretty much should condemn everything that ever lived, and consider only bare rock as unspoiled nature. And yes, since we are smarter than beavers we can see that at times the changes we make can be detrimental to our own survival, and should perhaps at times be more careful with them, but still, we are every bit as much a part of the biosphere as everything else here is.

      Besides, as a consolation for the more rabid environmentalists, Mother Earth seems to have a pretty good track record when it comes to recovering from extinction events. So even if they are right, and our species really will manage to trash all what now is, give her a few millions of years, maybe 10 to 20 or so, and everything will most likely be just fine again. If you really think humans are something separate from nature and don’t matter that should sound ideal, shouldn’t it?

      And when it comes to mystical thinking, I prefer to imagine that Mother Earth/Gaia/whateveryouwanttocallit created us in order to outlive our sun. We could be the means to spread Earth life somewhere where it can survive way past what will be if it stays stuck on just this one planet.

        1. Probably. I know I have seen it in several places, some variation, but I’m perfectly willing to believe he originated it.

        1. Only Man can feel embarrassed by success.

          Which is not a reason to feel embarrassment. Or rather, the ability to feel embarrassment is not a cause for embarrassment, nor is success a cause for embarrassment, although being embarrassed because you can feel embarrassment or because you do feel embarrassment over your success is probably a good reason for feeling embarrassed.

  6. You see, I went to school in a Marxist system, where the answer had to accord with Marxist theory. It teaches you double think. It teaches you to read the teacher/professor and play to what they want. You do it, or you flunk. … This is the problem: the danger of double think is that it twists your brain. You aren’t thinking logically, or even about what you believe.

    This explains a great deal about the left. Everything is analyzed through a Marxist theory lens. If you don’t wear those glasses the world will look different. They will argue that this means our vision is out of focus. We believe what we see is perfectly clear, and that kind of correction actually distorts realities.

    1. I understand many U.S. college English majors are required to give literature a Marxist treatment (as if Marxism has anything to do with literature), which says a lot about modern publishing.

      1. Some professors do give literature a Marxist analysis. (also Freudian, Jungian, Feminism, etc) Thankfully I could pick my slant so I used the Archetypal Jungian format when I had to analyze literature. It is pretty silly imho. And then there is the analysis of what the writer put into a piece that they didn’t know they put in there. UGH

        There is one (can’t remember what it is called) where the analyzer looks into the background of the writer to see why they wrote a particular piece. 😉

        1. I can think of many things it could be called, but I cannot think of a way to type them in polite company.

          Paraphrasing Freud: Sometimes a book is just a book.

          1. I saw an interview with Robert Frost many years ago. The interviewer asked him about the poem Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening, and whether it meant death, the way all the lit types insist. Frost rolled his eyes and said, No, it does not. I’m with Frost on this one.

            Though I suspect, if you can find Death (with a capital D) in something, that gets you points with your lit professors.

            1. Frost’s own take on that poem is discussed quite a lot in literature classes, in part because many critics insist that he was talking about death even if he didn’t know he was. Nearly spoiled a poem that I otherwise like very much. I hate deconstructionism.

              1. Yes – I do too… especially when it is done by English Lit and History professors. (Mind you had some that were good and stayed away from deconstructionism.)

              2. IIRC, Asimov had a very similar tale about attending a lecture on one of his stories and ultimately being dismissed with a sniff as “merely the author.”

                Presumably such lecturers share Terry Pratchett’s conceit that stories aren’t written by people, stories occupy people and then escape through their pens*.

                *For the hopelessly pedantic, “pens” is used in this instance as a poetic allusion to all writing implements, including but not limited to: pens, pencils, typewriters, keyboards, crayons and human blood admixed with ink applied by a stylus.

                1. I dunno — I could go mid-way and figure that there’s what the author meant, there’s what slipped out of the author’s subconscious, there’s what the author isn’t even aware of because s/he’s steeping in the culture, and there’s what the reader brings to the whole thing.

                  But then, I’ve had the experience of a first-reader talking about stuff that was in my book that I certainly hadn’t meant to put there… But when I thought about it… sure enough! It was there!

                  That’s why it’s so cool when readers talk about what they got out of one’s story in my opinion — you find out stuff about your own work that you never knew was there! 😀

                  1. I have to admit that my first novel was reviewed quite recently and the reviewer noted that it was a coming of age story. Well, I hadn’t even thought of it, but when I looked at the general outline of the story… What the heck – it was a coming of age story. 😉 I started writing that one in my early twenties, but didn’t finish it until I was forty-nine more or less.

      2. It is important to demonstrate the perils of False Consciousness. Logic is an example of the kind of False Consciousness that can lead us astray and bar us from Paradise. False Consciousness must be avoided and people who tell you their vision is clearer for their not wearing Marxist lenses want you to be blind. Squirrel.

  7. My favorite stories growing up were Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, so, I guess this simply proves I am ODD.

    1. My first fairy tale love was the Wizard of Oz series – with Dorothy, who reckoned that, as an American, she was as good as any king or queen. (Interesting that the librarians of the 60s quietly removed that series from the shelves, considering it “junk.” My mom bought them for me instead.)

  8. An expert, as I may have mentioned previously, is merely a person who has mastered the conventional wisdom. They are certified in this mastery by those who had previously mastered the conventional wisdom. They therefore have a vested interest in the conventional wisdom.

    Any correlation between conventional wisdom and actual reality is purely coincidental.

  9. A subtler and more insidious way in which PC affects is not the number of times you don’t say what you think on a topic because you fear getting squished, it is the frequency with which you do not confront an obviously mutton-headed assertion because the argument is not worth the bother.

    For example, when somebody claims The Catcher In The Rye is a seminal novel expressing the clear-eyed perceptiveness of American Youth(TM) you order another beer rather than respond: “It is semen-full alright, ’cause the main character is a useless wanker.”

  10. Dear me. I think my favorite growing up was “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Nowadays I’ve read more and am torn between “Kate Crackernuts” or “Tattercoats.” One wonders the significance.

    One also wonders what the extremely limited fairy tale repertoire of modern society means — are you really limited to the stories you have access to? Or can your life story be determined by that which would have been your favorite had you only known of it?

    1. Well, at various times my favorites included “The White Cat,” “The Goose Girl,” “Momotaro (The Son of a Peach)” and “My Lord Bag of Rice,” and “Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch,” so I’m not sure what that says about me, other than my parents had interesting tastes in bedtime reading. However, some of the folk songs I enjoyed (and still do) would give a therapist fits. “Greenwood Sidie-o” comes to mind, as does “The Great Silkie,” “The Hills of Shiloh,” and “The Two Sisters,” in their various versions.

      1. I really liked Puss In Boots. But that was NOT the one I heard most often, so supposedly not the one that “programmed” me. My mom had heard Little Red in a radio program so much she knew it by heart and she loved doing the voices. (Shrug.)

      2. I grew up with classical, including opera, and folk. Various misdeeds, follies and tragedy were throughout the songs. The Daughter at a young age became a fan of folk and Kurt Weill. Really not much different. Because I could not remember I asked her about her favorite stories. She thought a moment and said, ‘No there were too many of them.’ I replied, ‘They were books? BOOKS GOOD?’ She replied, ‘Ah, yeah that about covers it’

      3. I loved The Goose Girl, too, maybe because it’s one of the more disturbing ones. I always think of Falada’s head over the gate, talking to the princess.

  11. My inner pedant has an urge to speak:

    While Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” is the oldest published version, it is unquestionably a literary version. Collectors of French folk tales have found what they believe to be the older folk version. For one thing, she lacks the red hat. For another, she gets away by telling the wolf that she has to go to the bathroom and then running.

        1. It’s not. Actually Dan spent one evening laughing himself silly reading a Portuguese book of fairytales. EVERYTHING is about food, see? Cinderella counseled her dad to marry evil step mom because she cooked really well, Snow White and Ansel and Grettel, well! but all the other ones are about food too. I wonder if it’s African influence. Their fairytales tend to be on food.

    1. The original collection of B’rer Rabbit stories by Joel Chandler Harris was brought back into print last year. It is not easy to read until you get the sounds into your ear, but it has all the stories. “An’ B’rer Rabbit, he say ‘how do you do?’ But the tar baby, hit don’t say nuthin.”

      1. Yes, reminds me of Scott that way, it makes perfect sense read aloud, but if your not sounding it out you have to study at it, because our eyes just aren’t used to reading words spelled that way.

      2. They used to be in our local newspaper every Sunday until I guess, the early 1960’s. Joel Chandler Harris admitted that many of the stories were Aesop’s Fables updated and changed to take part in the South. Very worthwhile reading, but frowned upon by the Powers That Be.

        1. Even odder is the fact that I vividly recall, circa 1960, watching Saturday morning cartoons that included such racist horrors as Hekyll & Jekyll and George Pal’s John Henry and the Inky-poo along with, no doubt manifold other nefarious corrupters of youth … and yet I somehow acquired a curious habit of judging people by their character rather than their epidermis. No doubt I am near unique in my ability to resist such brainwashing, or perhaps the propaganda wasn’t.

  12. You know, I think Goldielocks and the Three Bears may be responsible for some of my scientific leanings. You know, test things (theories, porridge, whatever) until you get it just right.

    1. Goldilocks and the three bears was my brothers’ favorite story. When I got tired of telling it, I would change it around a little … or put it in a different setting. lol

  13. I have spent a good part of the day trying to recall what influenced me. I read the Andrew Lang collections voraciously, followed the adventures of Princess Irene and Curdy (does anyone else remember the cartoon adaptation of this? I think it was a Jay Ward parody, but …), adored Joel Chandler Harris, devoured Bullfinch (the Greek & Roman myths were good, but the gloomy view held by the Norse really drew me in) and read the Oz series as well.

    But I think the fairy tales that most laid a hold on me came on four-colour pages every month, lavishly illustrated, featuring talking ducks, men in garish spandex, sporting capes … and women in spike-heels, fishnet stockings and (often as not) bustiers. Their world featured beings from distant planets, strange mutations caused by cosmic radiation, irradiated spider bites and explosions, involving gamma radiation and lightning struck chemicals. Strange tales – somebody might oughtta try using them as the basis for a movie or something.

    1. I started to respond here, but it got unreasonably long. I’ll shorten it to:

      I never got any kind of moral or message from anything when I was younger. It’s as if some part of my brain was not developed yet. I pretty much formed most everything about myself from watching my father, where the repetition finally made its way into my brain. Some, of course, from my mother, but mostly from him.

      1. As far as morals we got from reading, I was devouring Louis L’amour by the time I was in third grade, and that probably shaped my outlook on life more than anything else I read at a young age.

        Which reminds me of Kate’s post the other day, L’amour was very big on the American outlook that you can become successful at whatever you want to if you try hard enough.

        1. as far as shaping my morals — I was making fun of the fairytale theory, if that was not obvious — it was Heinlein. (Not THOSE morals. Get over yourselves. But the you know, lone man takes on the world, poor world, ones.)

  14. Never had a favorite fairy tale. Not one. I thought they were stupid and pointless. My formative kids’ stories were Tintin and Asterix, and that when I was in my teens. Not fairy tales.

    1. The fairytales where actually warnings to adults in the middle-ages. The stories we call fairytales today were stripped of their power. I like reading Grimms because they actually got the stories from the last of the storytellers.

      1. I like the Countess the Segur because of the sickly moralizing… I MEAN despite the sickly moralizing. She has such funny names, such DETAILED dress descriptions (I was never that girly) and… it’s just completely immersive in a sickly sweet too many marshmallows way.

      2. Cyn,
        I remember my reaction to Hansel and Gretel was: “WTF did they go into the forest when they were warned not to? Couldn’t they SEE it was a dark and scary place? Morons.”

        Ditto Cinderella. “Stupid idiot, letting her sisters boss her around. Why didn’t she slap them, or pour boiling water on them while they slept?”

        Yes, I was a violent child in the face of bullying and oppression. Why do you ask?

        And I wasn’t a goody-two shoes (my Mom is laughing in her grave as I write this), but I DID have a modicum of common sense. “Don’t try to cross the freeway on your bike. Ride over to the bridge.” Always made sense to me.

        Fairy tales offended me, I think, because of this.

        1. Ummm – I had four sisters. There were times I wanted to pour boiling oil over them, but I was smart enough to see the consequences if I did that… 😉 What Cinderella did for me was let me know that this hard time of my life would eventually cease. I would be able to start a new happier life, which I did. Revenge is sweet, but only if you survive it. My revenge was to live a great live afterwards.

        2. I had pretty much the same reaction to Hansel and Gretel, but with Cinderella, I don’t, because I was always the one who pretty much did what I was told (of course, I couldn’t relate to anyone who was abused, because I had great parents, and because my ability to even understand that sort of thing too a long time to develop). Goldilocks, though; I wouldn’t have been fussed if the bears had eaten her.

    2. Yeah, when I was young I wanted realism, I wouldn’t read SF or fantasy (although I liked Burroughs I somehow didn’t consider it SF, apparantly my logic went like this; I don’t like SF, I like Burroughs, therefore Burroughs is not SF, ignore the fact that the story takes place on Mars/Venus/Pellucidar) I read things like Bullwhip Griffin, Where the Red Fern Grows, Ivanhoe, Gipson, Kjelgard, L’amour, Burroughs, and history books, particularly history of the American West, although books about the Mongols, or the Crusades or any explorers were avidly devoured.

        1. My problem was that until I was eleven or so and reality collided with my life at speed, realism was relative. I honestly thought Have Space Suit Will Travel was just how things were in America. I mean I could identify the past in Europe — Verne and Wells never impressed me because of that, because they were, let’s face it OBVIOUSLY “Days of future past.” I preferred honest history — BUT I was hazy on things like stories set in Africa or America. I’d tweaked — movies — that we lived at a different “civilizational” level than other places and I wasn’t sure where the lines were.
          I only enjoined the Countess de Segur as a 16 year old, and yes, there was a bit of “irony” and “self conscious analyzing” there. I felt there was something broken with me because I’d never read fairy tales like my friends and contemporaries had (the whitewashed sanitized versions. I did read mom’s Cinderella — I read everything! — and it was nasty, dark and evil) So I felt like there was a hole in my development I must fill retroactively. And grandma had old volumes of the Countess’s work. It really, really was cloyingly moralizing, but I was a brat and things like “A dress made of diamonds” fascinated me, because I kept thinking “wouldn’t that skin you?” and so… I read on.

        2. Realism was over-rated for me. I started dreaming about space travel when I was 13-14 or so. My parents wanted me to live a real life. I am still under-impressed with their reality.

          My reality is living the biggest life I can.

          1. Realism is not that fascinating to me, either, though I will admit that as long as it’s fiction of some sort, there’s still a certain amount of getting away from reality, so I like some such stories, for example, bearcat’s mention of Where the Red Fern Grows. Some of the ones that are bandied about as “great works”, though, leave me cold, such as Treasure Island, and Moby Dick.

            1. I read Treasure Island at ten. I really enjoyed it. That classic is one that was written for young ‘uns so I understand that as an older person, you wouldn’t like it. 😉

              Moby Dick leaves me cold too.

              1. Heh. Maybe so. I didn’t read Treasure Island until I read it to my boys (I read to them way longer than was necessary). Trying to wrap my mouth around the phrasing in Robinson Crusoe nearly broke my jaw, I swear.

        1. Yes, and my actual favorite book of his was Outlaw of Torn, which is set in the time of the Crusades, and I always suspected was inspired by Ivanhoe.

            1. I liked The Mucker. The Apache Devil and The War Chief were good, too. In fact, I can’t recall ever reading anything by ERB I didn’t like, although a couple of times I went “What an idiot!” as he got his main lady in trouble for the hero to rescue her from.

  15. I don’t do political commentary much anymore, but I detest what I call “prismatic” analysts/commentators: those who read everything onlty through their own pet perspective, e.g. 1984 with a feminist perspective, or Shakespeare through Marxist glasses. I read an essay about the blatant sexuality in Ann Bradstreet’s poetry and I nearly threw up at the contortions required by the author to find glimmers of sexuality in Bradstreet’s verse. Talk about strained metaphors…

    1. Sigh. I was a very bad person when I was younger. I enjoyed finding the MOST BIZARRE prism to apply to things — say, comparing modern, formless poetry to middle-English prayers. And yet, I got As. Sigh.

      1. I really upset my professor when I spun “The Scarlet Letter” through an archetypal filter especially when I went after the priest who was the father of the unsanctioned child. It turned out that the prof. had abandoned her children when they were really young and she was seeing that in my essay. I didn’t know about it until afterwards. 😉

    2. The essay that got me was one which asserted that Marianne Dashwood was pleasuring herself during the scene where she is despondent after finding out that Willoughby was going to marry another.

        1. When correctly viewed
          Everything is lewd
          I could tell you things about Peter Pan
          And the Wizard of Oz (there’s a dirty old man)

          Tom Lehrer, Smut

          Otherwise, yeah, Eww

          1. There is no sex in literature*, there is lots of sex in the minds of some readers of literature.

            *Some literature includes descriptions of people having sex; descriptions are not the thing described. One would hope professors of Literature would have grasped this, but apparently they are inclined to grasp something else instead.

      1. Sexual harassment at a distance.

        Or perhaps the influence of professors who like this interpretation because it gives them plausible denialibility as they sexually harass all their classes with their “interpretations.”

        1. Believe me you are. It cost me time I will never be able to recoup, has inserted thoughts and images that are non-constructive and unenlightening. It has likely damaged a few brain cells as well. (I shall neither name the piece or the author, because I wish to spare others the experience.) The Spouse often asserts that on top of everything else wrong in the hall of academia, the need to find a new, previously unexplored and ‘insightful’ topic for a thesis (which the professors must approve) is compounding the damage.

  16. I cannot think of a single book that influenced me as a child. There are many, many of them, beginning about age seven and proceeding until now. I read everything I could when I was younger. I had some childhood disease, measles I believe, when I was 12. My mother had bought a large collection of Readers’ Digest Youth books for me for Christmas, but gave them to me early because of my enforced bed-rest. Most of them were either what passed as “classics” at the time, or biographies of our Founding Fathers. I read all 26 of them while I was sick, and went looking for more. There was a two-volume set of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, a three volume set “The Rise and Fall of Rome”, several of the Greek masterpieces, and dozens of others. By the time I was 14, I had read them all, some several times, plus dozens of other books they caused me to read to understand what was actually said in the earlier books. I think Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” have had the most prominent effect upon me as a person. I don’t see myself as a Johnnie Rico or Jubal Harshaw, but they did influence who I am today. So do several thousand other books… 8^)

    1. I have one, but for the life of me I cannot remember the name of it, but it was a “why things work” sort of book. It was written for kids and I got it from my parents or grandparents around 5th grade. It was the same sort of construction as a phone book, meaning the materials used like the cardboardish binding and the same grey paper stock used for the pages.

      The subjects were loosely grouped into catagories and I DEVOURED it. Without even realizing I was doing it, I memorized entire sweeps of that tome; along with the cartoonish illustrations must have really drove the point home.

      We were in class in sixth grade when a smug substitute (that we all hated) asked the class why our stomachs grumbled and made noises when we were hungry. I even remember the smirk she had on her smug substitute face. She was wearing red and had her hair up.

      I raised my had an almost regurgitated the page in my book that covered that topic exactly. Your body gets used to eating at roughly the same times every day. When those times roll around, the digestion process begins. If there’s no food to engage those processes/enzymes/hormones, etc, your stomach turns into a little monster trying to get out.

      I can remember the smug smile vanishing from her smug substitute face and she admitted that was absolutely correct and awkwardly changed the subject. I remember thinking, What just happened?

      I had that book well into high-school, when my mom gave it to my brothers who subsequently destroyed it. I got my revenge by father all of their children without telling them.

      1. I recall in 5th Grade reading 1,001 Questions About Birds. Mind you, I had NO questions about birds occupying my little mind, demanding they be answered. I had NO interest in birds … but I had read everything else in the class library except for the books which were even less interesting than 1,001 Questions About Birds … which, at a guess, probably means I had already finished off 1,001 Questions About Rocks, 1,001 Questions About Trees and 1001 Questions About Bugs.

        And I do clearly recall one of those questions and its answer:

        Q: Do ducks have penises?
        A: OF COURSE ducks have penises.

        I am sure there was more to the answer, most likely a description of duckish members (do ducks worry about the size and staying power of their drakehood? Dang – now I have 1,002 questions about birds) but as it had never occurred to me to ask that particular question in the first place the emphatic nature of its answer obviously left quite an imprint on me.

  17. D’OH! “Fathering” The poorly-executed comment above is what happens when snark goes bad and a good idea gets lost in between answering the phone a couple of times.

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