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Reading The Raven Cycle in Kampala

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The book(s): The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

The place: initially Kampala, though I am now sat in a Schiphol Starbucks clutching a quadruple-shot latte and waiting for my connecting flight to London. 


While reading Richard Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes series, I did a bit of frantic and despairing googling for reviews: frantic because when I love a book I want to connect with people who also love it, and despairing because I need them to love it in exactly the same way and also the moon on a stick etc. It was this googling that led me to Brit Mandelo’s excellent review of The Cold Commands on (spoilers, obv), which led me to decide that Brit Mandelo is evidently a kindred spirit, as far as books go, which led me to this four-part essay on the Raven Cycle (also spoilers, obv, and I cannot exactly recommend this essay as I have only skimmed it myself for that very reason, but it was enough to make me buy all four books). Anyway post-drive-in-traffic-to-Entebbe, post-airport, post-flight, all of which entails a lot of reading time, I am about one-third of the way through the second book and enjoying the series immensely so far – finding the writing quite dramatically improved between the first and the second, also.

I was very interested to read Richard Morgan’s blog post in which he discusses and dissects the issue of gratuity in literature, which contains the killer line: “The simple truth is that we absorb the content of our entertainment rather than the structural underpinnings, and – each to our own tastes – we tend to go looking for entertainment that has the best chance of containing the things we vicariously thrill to.” Obviously nothing I didn’t already know; I have often mentioned – jokingly, and less so – my tendency to outsource my emotions to fiction; I’ve noticed, also, that this year the art that I have been consuming (primarily books and music, but also television) has been more overtly id-driven than is usual, in a way that has me slightly concerned. It’s not that I feel, necessarily, that I am reading Less Good material (and the question of what I mean by good in this context is ever a vexed one), but that my reading choices are driven by impulses that are … less worthy? I don’t know. Probably I am just tired; probably I am increasingly seeking out books that will give me a guaranteed pay-off of some sort, rather than ones that will demand something of me – and it’s true, also, that my reading patterns change when I am on holiday, compared to when I am working.


Meanwhile, there is Orlando, and what can one say about that? I feel a bit … emptied out by horror these days, to be frank, as something unimaginably awful happens and people rehearse the same old tired old arguments to reinforce their own positions. Every time, I think: this, this will be the thing that changes people’s views (about gun control; about LGBTQ rights) and yet every time the positions end up feeling more entrenched. (Mine included, I confess.) What has changed in me, this time around, is that it has clarified my position on calling out homophobia and transphobia where I encounter it; I’ve been remiss in the past, in situations where it could be excused by cultural or religious difference. But I’m done with that now. No culture, no religion justifies hatred; opposition to gay marriage, trans* panic about bathrooms, all of that exists on a spectrum of violence with Pulse nightclub at its bloodier and more violent end – but make no mistake, it’s part of the same social and cultural structure that leaves people dead. If you’re not opposed to homophobia in all its forms, you are part of the problem that ends in this.


Written by Jess

June 14, 2016 at 7:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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