I’ve been back in NYC for 3 weeks now and am just about recovered from my travels — in time to start planning my next sojourn (more on which later).
Lengthy travels make me long for homely comforts — my own food, bed, and favorite books. So when I returned, I made some mac-n-cheese and, with a stack of books next to my bed, indulged myself.
First I took myself off to Earthsea, thinking magical stories set in the Archipelago would be sufficient distraction from current political realities. But as hundreds of thousands of women were preparing to march worldwide, Le Guin’s feminist U-turn in her created world only underscored what is now at risk.
The first 3 Earthsea books were published 1968-1973 and set in a male-only world of wizardry, where the saying Weak as women’s magic, wicked as women’s magic was frequently repeated (note: only by wizards). There are hints of the Old Powers (connected to women), but Ged, with a woman’s help, escapes them. Then, Le Guin has a rethink and, beginning in 1990, she goes back to Earthsea to try to figure out why men fear women.
Why men fear women. Of course not all men and of course not all women. Earthsea holds wizards who welcome women as sources of magical power and try to learn from them; there are also women who are happy to leave magic in the hands of men — yet they’re still subject to the whims of men, whether wizard or not. But that question of fear is critical: The wizards fear death so much that they change it into a prison rather than a release. They fear women so much that they ban them from their lives, convinced that loving relationships will sap their powers and defile their sacred groves.
I leavened the mental challenges of diving into Earthsea with a quick run through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s semi-autobiographical Little House books. My favorites in this series are By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter, which cover her family’s first two years in Dakota Territory, including a horrifying winter of non-stop blizzards during which her family nearly starves. My companion for this series is Pioneer Girl (Wilder’s autobiography), annotated and illustrated with photos, maps, and other resources that show how Wilder, with assistance from her daughter, turned a lively but brief set of memories into 7 carefully crafted novels.
And then, since I haven’t yet read the third novel in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, I started that set (I’m now about 70% done with the first book).
Which sparked the idea for this year’s reading theme: series, for both children and adults. This gives me the excuse to wallow in the comfort of the familiar (here I come, EF Benson and Arthur Ransome, possibly even JRRT), and the push to finally open unread installments in other series (including The Brotherhood of the Conch, set in India).
Because I’m still working on my own writing, I can’t promise to post much about the books I read, but I’ll come back now and then to let you know how I progress. As for my next sojourn: a lengthy trip in spring and summer will take me back to the UK and Scandinavia, and then on into Eastern Europe. Trains and boats and planes!