Book Review: Immortal Lycanthropes by Hal Johnson

“A shameful fact about humanity is that some people can be so ugly that no one will be friends with them. It is shameful that humans can be so cruel, and it is shameful that humans can be so ugly.”

So begins the incredible story of Myron Horowitz, a disfigured thirteen-year-old just trying to fit in at his Pennsylvania school. When a fight with a bully leaves him unconscious and naked in the wreckage of the cafeteria, Myron discovers that he is an immortal lycanthrope—a were-mammal who can transform from human to animal. He also discovers that there are others like him, and many of them want Myron dead. “People will turn into animals,” says the razor-witted narrator of this tour-de-force, “and here come ancient secrets and rivers of blood.”

Apparently the used copy I bought off Amazon was an advanced reading copy, so I am wondering if anything changed from ARC to final version. As a librarian, it delighted me to find actual typos in an ARC, proof that a process does exist.

I would have loved this book as a kid. I only “like” it as an adult. I discovered it when it was reviewed by BoingBoing. I let it sit on my shelf for a long time after I bought it because it looked very…young adult-ish when I got it in person. But don’t let the cover deceive you. It deals with adult subject matter — but in a way that is safe (?) for kids and through methods they could understand.

The story is narrated in a monotone voice and with dry humor. Kind of unreliable, but also factual. Turns out to be a character in the story. That kind of thing.

The story centers around beings who can turn into animals. Wait, they are mammalian  animals that, thousands of years ago, realized they could turn into humans. They don’t know why or how. Like us, they just are. And they cannot die unless killed by another Lycanthrope, which seems pretty Highlander-esque but also very this-ish too.  It’s The Jungle Book meets Highlander, honestly. And there’s even an equal amount of Scott-ish-ness (hyphens purposeful). The main villain doesn’t have a lot of motivation for why he does what he does, but I also argue he’s not the main villain. There is no main villain or even real hero in this story. That’s what makes it so good.

But oh wait, they aren’t really Lycanthropes. That word is really more  of an eponym that’s meant to represent more than just wolves.  It’s the “colloquial” term, as one character says. In the past, some were worshiped as gods. Now they’re aware of each other and think Myron is the newest of them all — perhaps even “the chosen one.”

There is only one of each animal (don’t worry about how evolution makes that messy, though it’s touched on in the book). And there’s a badguy lion who wants to kill our main character, Myron, just because. Myron is a disfigured little boy — rather, he looks like one. Who knows what animal he really can turn into? And when the ‘thropes do turn back and forth, they end up naked — it’s not like watching the eye-roll worthy moments of Hulk in short-shorts (though it is a bit for the gorilla…).

The story plays out in a world where secret societies like the Illuminati and alchemists are real, where anarchists attend Lycanthrope-hosted conferences, and the gods probably exist because they are called on a lot (?). Just go with it. I also learned about a secret society called The Nine Unknown Men, which, not gonna lie, threw me off a bit because the story assumes you would know about them. But kids probably won’t. It’s not a big deal but it would have been nice to have known their rumor beforehand or have the story explain them a bit better. I thought they were something Johnson made up.

It’s all told so directly and without flourish that it makes it realistic. Time is handled very well — the forgetfulness of the immortal beings, the way they explain the world (while all having a slightly different view of it).  Along the way Myron meets a communist con artist who is also a gorilla. A moose who loves cheese and shuns society. And a bearcat who ghostwrites for a living. (Can you tell who the narrator is?).

Myron is knocked unconscious “entirely too many times” (as he puts it) in order to speed things along. However, this is not a fast-paced tale. The plot isn’t want keeps you turning pages, it’s the mystery and the narrator. I loved the voice and the meta-ness of it all. It helped carry the morally-grey subject matter. There are long conversations with immortals over their life stories. There is a lot of death. There is a lot of unrealistic things that seem so plausible when put into this story.

The way indignity is handled in the book is also something I would like to talk about, but I don’t know that I have the energy to research character backstories. Just know it ties into the evolution comment above, and that wherever the animals are from, their human bodies look like the people of that land. Unless they are older than the people of that land. It’s complicated and messy, just like defining who and who is not indigenous.

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From “Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Reproducing Multispecies Justice” by Donna Haraway

“Before leaving the Disappeared, I turn to a re-worlding event of comparable magnitude to the execrable carbon emissions and related phenomena driving today’s climate change and extinction avalanche, namely the post-1492 depopulations of the America by the practices of European colonization and conquest and the consequences for the metabolism of the planet discussed by Lewis and Maslin:

‘The arrival of Europeans in the Caribbean in 1492, and subsequent annexing of the Americas, led to the largest human population replacement in the past 13,000 years, the first global trade networks linking Europe, China, Africa and the Americas, and the resultant mixing of previously separate biotas, known as the Colombian Exchnage. One biological result of the exhcnage was the golbalization of human food-stuffs. The New World crops maize/corn, potatoes and the tropical stable manioc/cassava were subsequently grown across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Meanwhile, Old World crops such as sugarcane and wheat were planted in the New World. The cross-continental movement of dozens of other food species…and human commensals…contributed to a swift, ongoing, radical reorganization of life on Earth without geological precedent. ‘

Such an innocent-seeming word, ‘planted.’ It is not incidental that many of these foodstuffs were critical to feeding slaves and other forms of displaced forced labor of the Plantationocene and Capitalocene.”

Book Review: Making Kin not Population by Adele Clarke (Editor), Donna J. Haraway (Editor)

See below for my original post on Instagram about this book.

Making Kin introduced me to new perspectives on the issue, though I came for Kim TallBear and Donna Haraway. One takeaway I’m still grappling with is my reaction to this quote from Murphy (who I also quoted below): “…is there any surprise that it remains easier to imagine doing something about population than ending capitalism?”

My first thought had been “but getting rid of capitalism would mean you get rid of consumers and the drive to increase those consumers with more babies. Getting rid of one gets rid of the other!” But as I thought about it, I saw that even those in groups like VHEMT do not live anti-capitalist politics necessarily. They have a wide range of reasons for thinking there should be fewer people on the planet. In fact, even on my own journey I had first come to the conclusion of “there are too many people!” before I came to “capitalism is bad” a few years ago.  So her statement is right. Many of us are still so limited in our imagination of “better worlds” that we work within the constraints of capitalism. I even see this with my choice to be vegan — I buy products that are vegan hoping that my purchases count as a vote for change, ignoring (up until recently) the bailouts make it hard for my votes to count. So many vegans think we can change the system through what we buy. And while I think it still it does help (to some degree), why work within the constraints of such a system that allowed for exploitation in the first place? THAT, is the thought I am still chewing on after reading this book.

As well as some digested quotes:

“Are feminist and STS scholars actively afraid of engaging these issues of human numbers, environment, and population control, with all their complexities and difficult histories? There are, for example, many grave problems with the (over)loaded concept of ‘population,’ engaged vividly in this volume… What are the alternatives? How can we discuss such thorny problems and articulate new positions in ways that are also respectfully pro-mother, pro-child, pro-parent and pro-person?” -Introduction, Adele E. Clarke

“Among the nonhumans, the Disappeared are as fiercely absent and hauntingly demanding. The Sixth Great Extinction is not a metaphor; it is an unrolling disaster. It cannot be stopped anymore. Perhaps it can be reduced. Still, the extinguished kinds will not return, no matter the heroics of technoscientific resurrection biology… Marisol de la Cadena writes that ‘extractivism is how human geological force makes itself present in Latin America.” Native America has experienced more than one end of the world, more than one mass catastrophe that puts the laments of Anthropoceneans convinced of the uniqueness of their experience of coming end times into perspective. Consequently, it is impossible to imagine serious opposition to today’s Plantationocene and Capitalocene without aligning with the struggles and reworlding formations let by Indigenous peoples, as well as by other collective resisters, such as Black Mesa Water Coalition. Such alignments are crucial to making human and nonhuman kin to loosen the fetters on present and coming generations from the Big Numbers of the Great Accelerations of the Born and the Disappeared…

I have been screamed at after lectures by my feminist colleagues of many years, told that I can no longer call myself a feminist, or that I am just a white imperial feminist after all, for arguing in public that the weight of human numbers on a global scale, however broken down by analysis of structured inequalities, opposition to ongoing racist population control programs, and many other important things, is an outrage. But the weight of the Born Ones is an extensionist, extractionist pressure for humans and nonhumans. It is not OK to assign this issue to conventional environmentalists or population professionals or anybody else. This is a feminist issue. I tried to write some of this into the Camille Stories in Staying with the Trouble. 

Babies — there are plenty of babies among the born ones, just not the ‘right sort’ for the resurgent nationalist and eugenicist and hetero- and homo- normative family-oriented pronatalists. The born ones deserve real pro-baby, pro-child worlding, not state policies and technosciences only for the ‘right kind’ of new babies. Refugee children and foster children — as well as resettled refugees and former foster youth who have aged out of public support systems — need ongoing kin-making community practices. There are many examples of people making a different, but it is no enough. The born ones need each other and all the critters of terra. They deserve a world that has not been surveyed, numbered, mapped, and resourced for nothing but more humans in endless human exceptionalist projection and extraction, under whatever ideological screen.

The personal ‘right’ (what a word for such a mindful bodily matter!) to birth or not to birth a new baby is not in question for me; coercion is wrong at every imaginable level in this matter, and it tends to backfire in any case. On the other hand, what if the new normal were to become a cultural expectation that ever new child have several lifetime committed parents ( who are not necessarily each others’ lovers an who would birth no new babies after that, although they might live in multi-child, multi-generational households)?

I am filled with cascades of questions.

What if serious lateral adoption practices for, of, and by the elderly and other adults and youth became common? How to expand adoption practices of savvy situated kinds in many places? What if nations that are worried about low (“native”) birth rates and demographic change (Denmark, Germany, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, white America, more) acknowledged that fear of immigrants is a big problem, as well as fear of ‘minorities,’ and that racial purity projects and fantasies, not to mention ageism, drive resurgent pronatalism by the wealthy? Perhaps even Paul Ryan, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, could be brought to account for his anti-immigrant nationalist pronatalism in the middle-class, white-normative reproductive, nuclear family mode.

What if making a new baby became truly an act of joy an material, daily responsibility for an enlarged community? How to celebrate children in non-natalist movements? ‘Child care’ does not begin to name what is needed and must become normal. What if people everywhere looked for non-natalist kin-making innovations to individuals and collectives in queer, decolonial, and Indigenous worlds, instead of to European, Euro-American, Chinese, or Indian rich and wealth-extracting sectors?

How to reintroduce caring about earth at every scale, how to do this without reintroducing racist environmentalist or populationist discourses, practices, and fears?” – Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Reproducing Multispecies Justice, Donna Haraway

“A distributed reproductive politics is not about birth rates or human numbers. It is about which kinships, supports, structures, and beings get to have a future and which are destroyed. A distributed reproduction is not about babies in particular (neither is it against them); instead its ambit extends into air, water, land, and a mesh of life forms into the multigenerational future.

Aspiring towards decolonizing and queer alter-worlds, reproduction might be better rethought as politics of redistributing relations, possibilities and futures. #RedistributionsNotReproductions.

“Learning from making kin with the decolonial projects of Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, and Indigenous Land/body prophecies, understanding the densities that make up ‘afterlife’ is a project aimed at summoning new forms of humanity, not preserving the human that histories of deep violence have created. Afterlife is not waiting for the apocalypse — apocalypses of many kinds have already happened, even as livable worlds keep being snatched away. First the buffalo, then the land, now the water. Afterlife resides in what Frantz Fanon called ‘an atmosphere of certain uncertainty.’ This is a crucial point.”  -Against Population, Michelle Murphy

“The ‘crisis’ of low fertility is often seen as connected to anxiety about the overall aging of the population. It is also related to how we assess economic development vis-a-vis population.

Recently more social scientists in East Asia such as Yip are now suggesting that we should adjust our mindset to living in a low-fertility society rather than seeking magic measure to produce a baby boom. Such a mindset would encourage reconsideration for the relationships between fertility, economy, and environment.

[Single] person households provide fewer social supports, especially but not only in old age…each year 32,000 people died alone in Japan with no, or only weak, social ties, and for whom officialdom might have no one to whom to even issue a death certificate. Such ‘invisible’ deaths indicate deeply changing family structures in Japan, and the bleak consequences of social isolation.

Organizing new social ties beyond those of the traditional family is becoming an important challenge…” – New Feminist Biopolitics in Ultra-low-fertility Easy Asia, Yu-Ling Huang and Chia-Ling Wu

What I didn’t know

What I didn’t know

I didn’t know you could shut the water off to a toilet
Before it started flooding over
I didn’t know it was a bad idea to let that girl live with us
And that she would terrorize us but everything would end up OK
I didn’t know I was slowly getting rid of your favorite places
When I gave away the futon and gave back the bench
I didn’t know this apartment would be the third and last place
You would ever live with me
I didn’t know I could have spent more money on tests
Because I was about to get a new job that paid better
I didn’t know it would take so long for you to die
When I found you under the bed that morning
I didn’t know it was going to be your last night
And I’m so sorry I didn’t
I didn’t know

Mother’s day is quite hard for me. I buried my friend and daughter on a Mother’s day two years ago.

See also, “Flushing Ghosts.”

“It is no surprise that in contexts where indigenous peoples are actually gaining political power, particularly in Latin America, they have adapted and expansive rather than restrictive understanding of indigeneity…”

Quotes from the book:

‘The properly authentic remnants of Indian communities will then be bestowed federal funding and recognition. It is not a surprise, then, that we have internalized the strategy of always proving that we are the “authentic” Indians that deserve recognition by policing others we believe are less authentic than we are. As Hana O’Regan argues,

                For indigenous groups, a fear of “inauthenticity,” not being real, is a hangover of colonialism and, like colonialism, it must be constantly reproduced in order to be effective. The continuous development of “identity” as a problem specific to indigenous groups is one method that ensures colonialism’s durability as we nether the 21st century….That is to say it is based on the notion that we as people are deficient, hapless victims of a colonial past that has left us without knowledge of who we are. This is a position that we have no option but to reject as flawed.

While this response is understandable, it means that we are accepting the conditions of genocide imposed on us because we are acceding that we are in fact disappearing and that we cannot grow as a political force. We should always remember that “Authenticity is intimately tangled up with actions of objectification,” and authenticity is “created by those in charge, by the elite.” If we want to challenge these genocidal logics, we would no longer position ourselves as “rare” or “scarce,” such that we must sever ties with any other peoples, particularly black people. Ultimately, however, this strategy is politically pointless. If we want to actually end the structures of colonial domination, then we need to change our perception of ourselves as a growing political force rather than as a disappearing remnant. It is no surprise that in contexts where indigenous peoples are actually gaining political power, particularly in Latin America, they have adapted and expansive rather than restrictive understanding of indigeneity, with many indigenous groups actually defining African descendant people as also indigenous. Instead of policing Indian communities through blood politics out of fear of recognition and loss of resources from the colonial state, we could instead position ourselves as unafraid to embrace all those who may be able to help us dismantle settler colonialism. We should accept all Native and non-Native people who can genuinely help in the struggle to dismantle settler colonialism and who can be soldiers in sustainable change.’

–Cedric Sunray, “Blood Policing” Native Studies Keywords.

‘Jack Forbes in particular questioned the narrow constructions of indigeneity that always defined indigenous peoples from Latin America as nonindigenous. He critiqued these narrow constructions as designed to diminish the political power of indigenous peoples that might emerge if those indigenous peoples currently defined as ‘Hispanic’ under the U.S. Census began to identify with indigenous struggle.’

– “Indigeneity” [Introduction], Native Studies Keywords.

See also: Book Review: Native Studies Keywords

Book Review: Native Studies Keywords

See also: On Native Sovereignty and Nationalism.

On Native Sovereignty and Nationalism:

A quote from the book:

‘By arguing that any examination of the historical emergence of nationhood as the basis of the subjectivity of individuals or groups is tantamount to racism (and presumably colonialism), Alfred attempts to depoliticize the politics of nationalism by marking them as outside of the realm of contestation.

Not surprisingly, then, in all national sovereignty projects, especially those with any semblance of sovereign authority over membership, which people can unproblematically claim to be part of The Problem is highly charged. This is because projects for territory try to gain control over land in order to gain control over people. Indeed, within nationalized sovereignties, indigenous or nonindigenous, control over membership is the point at which sovereignty is most readily claimed. Within indigenous scholarship, this is evident in Alfred’s report for the Assembly of First Nations in Canada titled “First Nation Perspectives on Political Identity.” In it, he states, “First Nations have inherent jurisdiction over determining their citizenship, and have long rejected the Government of Canada’s unilateral control over defining who does, and does not, belong to them.” The strong link between sovereignty and the right to control membership is a structural aspect of nationalized forms of sovereignty: an unlimited and self-defining membership is anathema to nationalists. As Benedict Anderson has noted, placing limits on national belonging (through the law but also in the popular imaginary of who constitutes as “national subject”) is an inherently characteristic of all national formations. Such limits are usually established through ideas of the racialized and gendered character of the nation and, therefore, of foreigners.

The nation thus comes to occupy both a territorial space and ideological space of belonging….

For many people left out of the privileged group of the nation, the goal of being include din the benefits of national membership became a primary one. For some, the approach was to pursue “civil rights” – the right to be treated as a full member of any given national state. For some others, claims were made to separate nationhood with its own sovereignty. While these two strategies are often thought of as diametrically opposed, on being “reformist” and the other “revolutionary,” I think that, instead, they constitute two sides of the nation-state system. One attempts to redefine the nation while the other attempts to create new ones. Both legitimize the national state form of power and the nationalist ideology that only the members of the nation have legitimate claims to membership and to the rights and entitlements that this bestows.’

-Nandita Sharma, “Postcolonial Sovereignty,” Native Studies Keywords.

Review to come.

Book Review: City of Dark Magic by “Magnus Flyte”

DNF.

Magnus Flyte is not a real person. Such a cool name cannot be real. You can tell this book is trying hard right off the bat with its “author.”  However, it is written by two women, which is interesting but makes me question motives (why they chose a male name, why they are choosing a singular name, etc.). I’m also naturally suspicious of book written by more than one person, as I don’t  believe such work can be equally shared and I feel l never get to really know either of them (since you can’t tell who wrote what)…

At first I thought this was going to be a YA novel, but there are apparently random (and I do mean random) sex scenes in this book which makes it more adult. And the main character is very adult too — a grad student. I was never really drawn into the story, though parts mildly amused me. The writing is tight, which makes it seem fast-paced but the plot is really all over the place (which speaks more to a chaotic nature than pace). It’s the semblance of fast-paced. Make no mistake, it’s not a thin book . It’s about Prague and the influence of Beethoven and I simply don’t care enough about music to identify with half of such ambience. There’s also, supposedly, a science fiction bent about time-travel which makes me exhausted just thinking about. I might hold on to this book and pick it up again later…if the apocalypse happens and there’s no more good TV and I have no access to other books. But below are some other reviews that simply made me stop caring officially:

With an antagonist who seems entirely power hungry, and just killing for the sake of killing, and a protagonist who is nothing special except for having a nose sensitive enough to smell things like danger, evil and pheromones, and has an extensive knowledge of Beethoven’s music, there wasn’t really much to the characters, nothing that makes you feel sympathy for their quest, or takes you on an emotional ride through their trials and triumphs.

 

The writing in this book was a little off-putting for me. It felt like I was reading a YA novel, but there were some pretty descriptive sex scenes that negated that notion. The writing just didn’t flow very well and the conversations felt especially stilted. The pacing was also oddly inconsistent; I never felt a sense of urgency until the last thirty or so pages of the book. I did think the descriptions of Prague and its historical landmarks were well done though, so the writing wasn’t a totally unpleasant.

 

I hate cutesy author profiles. This has an archness to it, an aren’t-we-clever-ness, which I find completely off-putting – and that’s without even bothering to bring up the little fact that a writer sending in a book as described would have their manuscript circular-filed before the echoes of the manual typewriter died. This just … isn’t funny. In point of fact, a pair of women wrote it. Just say so. 

Adding to the bad taste that left in my mouth – The Goodreads ad that keeps popping up for it:
“What do a music student, a U.S. senator, a 400 year-old dwarf, and a time-traveling prince have in common? A mystery in Prague. ‘This deliciously madcap novel has it all’ – Conan O’Brien”

(Really? Conan O’Brien a) reviewed a book and b) called it “deliciously madcap”? Are we talking about the same Conan O’Brien?)

 

Now that I know that this was written by two women — which explains why there were undeveloped characters and storylines running all over the place (not because they are women but because there are TWO of them) — and that it is the beginning of a series,I can firmly put this in the category of fun romp like a Janet Evanovich Wicked series. 

TBR: LifeShift by Michael Kott

Was Zeus a Greek God or merely a space explorer?

Following his mission to bring civilization to Earth, Zeus vanished on a newly discovered planet in the system Wolf 1061. Before he left, he set up a follow-on mission to come for him 35,000 years in the future. LifeShift tells the story of how, at a small high school in the Midwestern United States, in the Earth year 1957, that quest came to light.

That year, when sixteen-year-old Alex Monroe escaped death in an Illinois train yard, he learned that it was no accident. The same night, he dreamt he was with a beautiful girl in a strange world. The next day, he found the details of the dream not only don’t go away, but the girl in his dream is a new student at his high school. Which life, he wonders, is his?

Circe, the girl, tells him she is the reincarnation of Lachesis, one of the Moirae, or Fates, of Greek Mythology. An original offspring of Nyx and Zeus, she is an Eternal, from an advanced race of humans. He learns he may also be an Eternal, whose memories have been blocked, and he has some prescribed destiny. He discovers other girls at his high school are also Eternals, the reincarnation of various Greek figures, including Susan, who is Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow; Irene, who is Atropos, the oldest of the Moirae; and Patty, who is Celaeno, one of the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades.

While not knowing that Alex has been picked to lead a quest to join Zeus, Circe (Lachesis) and Irene (Atropos), take him under their protection, as Eris, the goddess of Strife, and various not-so-nice Eternals attempt to rectify the mistake of his escaping death in the railroad yard. Irene is able to trace back his memories to his last life, as a German Luftwaffe pilot prior to the Second World War, and finds his future as an Eternal is tied to the recovery of the Moire’s youngest sister, Clotho, the details of whose rebirth have been hidden.

Alex, in his journeys with Irene and others, eventually discovers that thousands of years ago, he was selected for the mission to join Zeus, who disappeared while exploring another planetary system eons ago. To do that, he must first find Clotho. Alex’s only clue is he can find her somewhere in California’s Sequoia National Park. Clotho was born at the same time he was, and he must be with her at the exact moment of their seventeenth birthdays for her to regain the knowledge of her past.

When he finds her, he discovers that his quest has only just begun.

 

So, kinda Thor-ish plus Percy Jackson?

View more on Goodreads. 

Book Review: The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin

This book is summed up well in the Introduction by Susan Wood: “These essays express powerful ideas; and their impact is increased by Le Guin’s skill in casting word-spells. The essays are direct, clear, and free from unnecessary jargon. More: they sometimes — often — flash into beauty.”

I’ve been very into essays lately — easy to take in and sit with, undemanding of my time. Skip or forget the ones that don’t speak to you, they will be there when you need them later. But there’s realness in these — hints of her inspirational patterns, if that’s what you’re looking for.

This is an older collection, probably out of print but I’m too lazy to check. My library had it though. I saw it referenced on instagram after Le Guin passed and so I added it to my mental list.  I bumped it up on said list probably because I miss Le Guin — the idea of her being in the world.  I’ve also been obsessed with Donna Haraway lately and I know Haraway has found “SF” inspiration in Le Guin, so it was one more chance to trace a “string” back to a wad of truths I’m still trying to figure out…

Some quotes:

“And lastly I believe that the reader has a responsibility; if he loves the stuff he reads, he has a duty toward it. That duty is to refuse to be fooled; to refuse to permit commercial exploitation of the holy ground of Myth; to reject shoddy work, and to save his praise for the real thing. Because when fantasy is the real thing, nothing, after all, is realer.”

 

“Those who fault Tolkien on the Problem of Evil are usually those who have an answer to the Problem of Evil — which he did not. What kind of answer, after all, is it to drop a magic ring into an imaginary volcano? No ideologues, not even religious ones, are going to be happy with Tolkien, unless they manage it by misreading him. For like all great artists he escapes ideology by being too quick for its nets, too complex for its grand simplicities, too fantastic for its rationality, too real for its generalizations. They will not more keep Tolkien labeled and pickled in a bottle than they will Beowulf, or the Elder Edda, or the Odyssey. ” 

 

“It is the experience or permontition of that loneliness, perhaps, that drives a lot of young writers into this search for rules. I envy musicians very much, myself. They get to play together, their art is largely communal; and there are rules to it, an accepted body of axioms and techniques, which can be put into words or at least demonstrated, and so taught. Writing cannot be shared, nor can it be taught as technique, except on the most superficial level. All a writer’s real learning is done alone, thinking, reading other people’s books, or writing — practicing. A really good writing class or workshop can give us some shadow of what musicians have all the time — the excitement of a group working together, so that each member outdoes himself — but what comes out of that is  not a collaboration, a joint accomplishment, like a string quartet or a symphony performance, but a lot of totally separate, isolated works, expressions of individual souls. And therefore there are no rules, except those each individual makes up for himself.”