Why I Read Romance

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Am I a romantic person?
*giggle, snort*
No, I can tell you without any irony that I am undoubtedly not a romantic person. (Do you think it’s possible for me to use any more negatives in this sentence?)

I am the kind of person who sees pictures of cute kittens and mini-humans and says “aw” more because I am obliged to than because I am actually overwhelmed with cuteness. Public displays of promposals and homecoming ask-outs make me uncomfortable; my smile always feels slightly fixed and my hands are always slow to clap. To me, the idea of having all that attention fixed on you is scary. I don’t mean to sound prudish, but I think all that cuteness and romance is nauseating and unnecessary. I always feel sympathy for both people participating in the spectacle.  There are so many expectation and  the pressure on them has to be astronomical.

I am usually a serious person. Words like “practical” and “prudent” are flung about around me. How many times have you seen the words practical and romance go together? That was rhetorical- everybody knows that practicality is the death of romance.
So, sometimes people in my life are surprised to hear I read romance. The amount of doubt and shock I receive when I confess my fondness for the genre is insulting and amusing in turn. Yet, I can’t resent anybody for being so confused because I often am just as befuddled. Why do I like reading romance?

I  adore the romance genre. Not for the love stories or because I dream of my own Prince Charming/Edward/ Mr. Right ( whoever I’m supposed to be swooning about), but because I love the stories.
A romance story done right is the ultimate equality of both sexes. Despite what non-readers might think, every romance story does not contain a weeping damsel in distress and a strapping highlander who needs to save her. Romance books speak of emotional vulnerability and placing your trust in other people’s hands.  Even if at the beginning of the book, one character has money, social connections and power- in real romance books, there is always a shift of power between the protagonist and their love interest. By the end of the book, they are emotional equals meeting each other on level ground.

For a sheltered teenage girl like me romance books are intoxicating. Regency novels show subtle women empowerment at a time when women had no rights. Fantasy is a warning to not throw your energy and time at someone who will never appreciate you. Sci-fi does everything it can to say that you can have a career without sacrificing love. Chick-lit is brilliant at showing women becoming more confident of the abilities and skill they have earned through heard work and determination.

A good romance book is meant to be inspiring.  It’s supposed to spur you into doing something nice for somebody else with no expectation of reward. It shows you that love is truly selfless (not necessarily self-sacrificing). At the end of the story, love has to make people want to be better.

I’ve heard the arguments: Romance is bad because it’s so rah-rah. Real life, I am told, is hard and things don’t come quite so easily; You have to work hard to get ahead.  Apparently, romance novels are filling my head with unhealthy expectations and naive optimism.
Maybe. I don’t have enough experience or worldliness to prove otherwise. But I am going to need a better reason to stop reading romance novels. The argument that romance novels are useless is not a categorical truth. Romance novels are not a terrible evil and a plague on literature. They are beautiful, compelling stories which deserve to be highlighted and praised. True, they entertain- but they also inspire.

I recently read Ilona Andrew’s Analysis of the Aplhahole Trope.  As always, she is ironic and funny and amazing.  I had a general idea of  why I liked romance books, but Ilona Andrews explains with so much specificity, that I am in awe. She exposes the true core of what it’s like to be a romance reader with so much accuracy, it makes me proud to read romance novels. I highly suggest you read her blog post here.

Death of A Bachelor: Jitters

Alright, Alright.
I might be a tad bit obsessed with Panic! At the Disco’s Death of a Bachelor Album. Only a little, mind you because it’s not like I’ve listened to it for hours on repeat. It’s not like I sometimes catch myself humming it while on the road or at school during class. It’s not like I haven’t been quoting it everywhere waiting for someone to get one of the references. Nope. Not at all.
It’s a hell of a feeling, though.

 

 

But this album is so very Panic! Who else could have written the line “Every night in my dreams, you walk on a tightrope of weird.” [Crazy=Genius]
But at the same time, you can see that Brendon Urie’s done some growing up. In his eventful life, he’s regretted some of the stuff he’s done. Urie’s told fans over and over again that he regretted the I write sins, not tragedies video but it’s the first time he’s immortalised his feelings in song:  “You shoulda seen what I wore/ I had a cane and a party hat.” [Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time]

As always, Panic! at the Disco’s lyrics are so weird, I’m completely befuddled. Is he trying to call up the imagery of drunken revelrey in Las Vegas with “I lost a bet to a guy in a Chiffon skirt/ But I make these high heels work”  or is there some deeper meaning. We will probably never know.

But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the title track. Yep, Death of a Bachelor. It’s significantly slower than the other songs and I think so far, it’s the only music video in this album in black and white.

While there are a lot of songs in this album which directly refer to the craziness of his wild days, like La Devotee, Victorious and The Good, the Bad and the Dirty and another several which refer to making new memories like House of Memories and Golden Days,  I think Death of a Bachelor is the one that is most obviously reconciling the two.

He refers to a change that’s already happened with the lines “People have told me I don’t look the same” while the song in itself refers to the change marriage brings to a bachelor’s lifestyle.

This song is interesting because it has all sorts of implications tangled up in it.  A major part of the chorus: “A lifetime of laughter at the expense of the death of a bachelor.” very clearly states that sacrifices have to be made. Taken literally, somebody else needs to die  for a person to be happy.  That has all sorts of ethical connotations to it. For example, is it okay for one person (the bachelor) to die so that two people (the married couple) can live happily. Society would have us believe so.

Even if we take it as a metaphor for two aspects of a person like we’re probably supposed to as evidenced by “I’m cutting my mind off/ It feels like my heart is going to burst”, Brendan’s still literally talking about suppressing a part of his personality. That’s horrible and honestly it makes me very afraid of marriage.

Image result for death of a bachelorThis song is very much a groom’s pre-wedding jitters. What else could it be with all the references to thinking as you drink, veils strangling people to death and being pushed off a cliff. But at the same time it’s a very deep, metaphor for society’s rigid expectation that you actively change your personality every time you enter a new phase of your life.

As someone who has a bunch of friends who will be heading off to college in a few months, this is an unnerving thought. If you’re heading off to college soon or making some other massive life change, I just want to remind you that you are not compelled to change. It’s true that nothing in life is constant but change, but don’t feel pressured to change yourself. You do not need to be more mature, more grown-up, more patient, more understanding right away.
There’s a learning curve to change and no one expects you to be a perfect adult who’s in total control of your life the day you turn 18.  If it happens, let it happen. If it doesn’t happen, don’t force it.

Morning Star: A Book Review

“If this is the end, I will rage toward it.”

Book: Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

Author: Pierce Brown

 

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)

Blurb: 

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

My thoughts: 

After the ending of Golden Son, what were we supposed to think? I was fairly sure Darrow was screwed. But of course, that didn’t happen because you knew there was one book left over in the series.

Holy fuck! This book takes place a year after the last book ended. Even if you can’t do the math, the book reminds you that Darrow has been tortured for 12 months. Understandably,  at the end, he’s more cynical and defeated.
To be honest, I missed the Darrow who was playing a practical joke on the rest of the world, naively brave and good. But this is what you sacrifice when you read a well-written book: Your characters change. Darrow’s always been a nuanced, complex and troubled. But he’s also emotionally immature and unstable. In this book he does a lot of growing up. He’s still not perfect. There were several times in the book that I wanted to slap him and tell him to get over himself.  Somewhere in between the two books, halfway between the starvation and the use of the sharp implements, Darrow’s grown less idealistic. He’s grown up and finishes up the last stage of grieving by admitting that Eo wasn’t perfect. That admirable thing he did in the last two books where he went out of his way to preserve every single life? Gone. In this book, Darrow’s playing a game on a grander scheme and he’s willing to sacrifice a couple of thousand lives (and does accidentally kill off several million people).

The secondary characters in this book are no less fleshed out. Minerva’s still the cool, calculating general. Her brother, Jackal is the main villain of this piece (no surprise, right?) to my utter disappointment; I seem to have a thing for book-psychos.

“This is always how the story would end,” he says to me. “Not with your screams. Not with your rage. But with your silence.”

Sevro’s one of the characters to change the most. Still potty-mouthed and funny, he’s become more serious as the leader of the Sons of Ares. He’s still rash, but he has a certain gravity which is inspiring to see (even through the pages of a book). 

“A man thinks he can fly, but he is afraid to jump. A poor friend pushes him from behind.” He looks up at me. “A good friend jumps with.”

But the part I love most about this book has to be the world-building. No detail has been missed and I’m willing to bet that Pierce Brown has a document 1000’s of pages long about the Red Rising World. From the social structure to the description of inventions, everything is on point. The Red Rising World is my idol for World Building. 

I am so glad that the long wait for the last book of the series is over. Morning Star was everything I hoped for and more. I can’t say much more without seriously spoiling things, but I would recommend this series (and by extension) this book. The pressing question on my mind now is: What’s next? 

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quotables:

“In war, men lose what makes them great. Their creativity. Their wisdom. Their joy. All that’s left is their utility.”

“Forget a man’s name and he’ll forgive you. Remember it, and he’ll defend you forever.”

“What is pride without honor? What is honor without truth? Honor is not what you say. It is not what you read. Honor is what you do.”

The Creepiness of Arctic Monkeys

I’m not usually an Arctic Monkeys fan but as I was listening to ‘I Want to be Yours’, I was just blown away by the hidden message of the song. It’s utterly creepy because so many people miss it.

 

I Want to be Yours by Arctic Monkeys shows how some people use love to manipulate the people around them into doing what they want. Though initially the song sounds like a romantic love ballad in which the singer promises he’ll be anything his lover needs, close listening to the song highlights nefarious undertones.

The first suggestion that something is wrong is the third line : “I wanna be your Ford Cortina/ I will never rust”.   Ford Cortina are trucks which are particularly vulnerable to rust. Already, the singer is making promises he will never be able to keep and perhaps has no intention of keeping. In this light, the opening line has a new connotation. “I want to be your vacuum cleaner.” heavily implies that he wants to suck his lover into something via means of force.  

The chorus “Maybe, I just want to be yours./ I just want to be yours/ I just want to be yours” then becomes suspect. One has to wonder why the songwriter used “maybe” . If he wasn’t sure he was in love with the person he sings the song to, how  likely  is it that he would humble himself by promising to do whatever it took to make his lover happy? (And sincerely mean it too.) The word “ Maybe” suggests manipulation. The repetition of “I want to be yours” emphasizes the singer is trying too hard to convince his lover that his desire is innocuous. 

After that, he tries to guilt his lover into doing what he wants. He emphasizes how high-maintenance his lover is by going over all the daily things that he/she needs to stay happy like “stay-in lotion”. He reminds his lover how long they’ve been together by referring to mundane, every-day domestic things like “Vacuum cleaners” and “coffee pots”(they probably bought together). Also, “I want to breathe in your dust” subtly reminds his lover that he/she has faults, but the singer is willing to overlook them.  

“You call the shots, babe”, he reminds his lover as if he/she is the only one can give him what he needs. But  I think “shot” could refer to a tequila shot (alcohol),  implying the singer is trying to influence her decision.  Rather worryingly, he refers to “a secret” which is “hard to keep”. The random throwing in of the over-poetic, over-blown metaphor“Deep as the deep Atlantic ocean/ That’s how deep is my devotion” makes it clear that the singer is appealing to his lover’s desperate desire to be loved.

This song is inadvertently ironic since it’s a popular song to which people lose their virginity.  High school boys are notorious for convincing their girlfriends to have sex with them by using arguments such as “If you really loved me”. The song seems to be a warning against people who use love to manipulate people.

Emotional manipulation, and bold-faced lying often leads to emotional abuse and physical abuse. Whether you’re male or female, vulnerable or not- be careful.  If somebody close starts using their love for you as an excuse, or demanding something because you love them- run. Distance yourself from that relationship as quickly and as definitively as possible. Don’t let anyone use love as an excuse to manipulate you. Your significant other doesn’t have that right. Neither do your friends or your parents. 

Re-reading Katherine by Anya Seton

“I only know that from wherever it is that we’re going, there can be no turning back”

Katherine by Anya Seton

This is my week to realize that in the past few years or so, my reading taste has changed so much.

Katherine

I re-read Anya Seton’s Katherine this week.
Why? I know it’s very strange behavior for a book reviewer who is so behind on her TBR list but I was studying a British royalty linage chart, and I happened to recognize the name Katherine.  Katherine is the very scandalous “lady” who was once John of Gaunt’s mistress and then his third wife. Her once illegitimate children are the direct ancestors of today’s British royalty. I did a quick re-read of Katherine; it’s more of a romance than actual history since so little is known about her, but I was very impressed with Katherine as a character.

Though this book was published over half a century ago, Katherine is almost as strong as a modern-day “girl power” character. True, she’s not as out-spoken and brash. Also, most of her power over other people comes about from the men in her life, but she really does the best she can with the resources offered to her. Over the course of a book, she does develop to a wily source of courage and a self-sufficency that teenage girls will always find empowering. Additionally, this is a rag-to-riches in the truest sense of the phrase. In the book, Katherine was the orphaned daughter of a Knight but eventually, she becomes the mother of the King of England. Additionally, I wouldn’t hesitate before putting it on my list of the Greatest Lovers of Literature. John of Gaunt and Katherine would definitely be above Romeo and Juliet (not saying much), Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester (which is saying something), Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy  (which is saying quite a bit).

When I last read this book, I was put off by how the harsh, gritty realities of the 14th century (complete with the Black Death and Peasant revolt) were described vividly, in poetic and flowery detail. I found the book distressing, and I was taken aback by the treatment of women at the time. Katherine is a powerful piece, but I was not equipped to handle it at 14.

I hesitate to say that I am fully equipped now at 16 to appreciate what a thrilling and beautiful book Katherine was. Anya Seton is insanely talented, and I am willing to bet that there are several subtle nuances and details that I haven’t yet caught. Maybe, two and a half years down the line, I’ll pick up this book again.
I’d definitely recommend this book for a read (and a re-read).

Overall Rating: 4/5

Drowned Mermaid: A Poem

In the narrow blue straits

of dire uncertainty,

she hangs.

Limbs loose.

Neck bent at an awkward angle.

Dark strands of hair trailing behind her

pall-­bearers to witness tragedy.

 

She’s a mermaid with

Blowing coral lips,

A shiny top of scales.

She’s a drowned mermaid

Blue in the face,

Bloated corpse.

Washed up river trash

floated downstream like a barge.

 

Even the gutter rats

won’t claim her now.

She floats onward,

broken face staring up

through cracked irises,

at the painted sky

Above.

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