the Iron Throne

“A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

I've always liked this cover best.

I’ve always liked this cover best.

Reading a book for the first time is filled with moments of wonder. If the story is gripping, you spend most of the time wide-eyed, reading quickly, as if the words already set in the book could somehow escape you. Approaching that book a second time does not dim the wonder but neither does the wonder consume you as on the first read. Things you glazed over in your excitement to know what happens next begin to emerge.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I read A Game of Thrones a second time. I was surprised at myself that I missed the blatant foreshadowing at the beginning of the story—the direwolf dead with the horn of a stag broken in its throat. Martin even referred back to that scene a few times thereafter and still I failed to notice it. I was too mesmerized then. Too curious and reading too quickly to pay much attention to details.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who has read the books in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, or watched the television show on HBO. The story centers on various characters spread across the kingdoms of Westeros and its neighboring lands. It is filled with twists and numerous cliff-hangers that will keep you both hooked and frustrated with GRRM since the character perspectives tend to switch from chapter to chapter.

Although I knew the ending and what would happen to the characters later in the series, I still anticipated the turn of every page. Again, I found myself staying up late, wide awake, and reading quickly to satiate my curiosity and desire for a happy ending though I knew better. I did not expect this of myself. I thought my second time through would be much calmer, as it usually is, but I was wrong.

Spoilers abound beyond this point:

Bran thought about it. “Can a man be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.

What hook me to the story are the characters. A Game of Thrones is a strong, character-driven novel. Although it begins with a situation that ends on an ominous note in the prologue, the story is mainly about the characters and what happens to them. Bran, the fifth child of all Ned Stark’s children, is the first character perspective we are introduced to. With him, we begin in innocence. Bran questions his world to learn about what’s occuring around him. If we had begun with an older character, we would instead find ourselves taking a stance—accepting or rejecting that character’s beliefs. I think GRRM wants us to form our own opinions on the story’s world and politics instead of simply taking on the opinions of characters. I think that’s why he begins with Bran since he hasn’t yet formed an opinion of his world, being so young. By beginning with Bran, I think we are being told to keep an open mind, which is needed to navigate these novels.

“Tyrion felt sorry for the boy. He had chosen a hard life…or perhaps he should say that a hard life had been chosen for him.”

“A bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

Jon is another great character. I couldn’t help empathizing with him. Although as a bastard he is forced to face the harsh reality of life and is seldom deluded by fancies, he allowed the lore of the men of the Night’s Watch to trick him into committing his life to serving on the Wall. Though, he didn’t have much of a choice once Ned went south to serve as the king’s hand since Catelyn doesn’t want him around. Despite his decision, I do have high hopes for Jon. Like everyone who has read the books and seen the shows, I too believe that Jon is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. There are many clues that point to this in AGoT not the least of which is Ned’s constant comparison of Rhaegar and Robert Baratheon, the two men who vied for Lyanna’s affections. Plus, Daenerys believes of her brother that he battled the Usurper (Robert) at the Trident and died there for the woman he loved. I wondered which woman she meant when I read that passage. I wondered if she meant Lyanna or Rhaegar’s wife, Princess Elia of Dorne (Elia Martell). But despite all that has happened to Jon (and will happen to him in the other books), I see him as a survivor. No matter what, he will prevail. I think his wolf signifies that. When found, Ghost was not with the other pups. I believe he was the first one born and his mother casted him away because he is albino. Thus, he is treated like a bastard. Of all the pups, Ghost was the only one that had already opened its eyes, which he had to do to survive. So like Ghost, Jon will do what he must to survive.

“Drogo had been more than her sun-and-stars; he had been the shield that kept her safe.”

I'm tempted to purchase this. I'm including it here because it helps to illustrate how Drogo overshadows here, among other things.

I’m tempted to purchase this. I’m including it here because it helps to illustrate how Drogo overshadows her, among other things.

Similarly, Daenerys will do what she must to reach the Iron Throne. I enjoyed watching Daenerys develop in this installment. She grows from a timid outcast in the shadow of her crazy brother Viserys to a queen confident and strong in her purpose. While rereading, I couldn’t help thinking of Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God whenever I read Daenerys’ parts. I find them similar in how at first they seem to need a man to lead them to their goal but in the end they find their way on their own. They both escape abusive relationships, grow to trust themselves, and end up killing a man they loved. I wasn’t sure if Daenerys was meant to lead when I first met her but I knew Viserys wouldn’t make it to the Iron Throne or lead an army (or so I hoped). He was unraveling from the moment we met him. Also, I think the prediction made about Daenerys’ son was really about her, unless her son is somehow resurrected (I haven’t yet completed A Dance with Dragons to know if this does happen). Daenerys was not meant to exist in someone else’s shadow so I don’t think she was truly meant to have such a powerful son. And I think that’s why Khal Drogo had to die. Not only did he overshadow her, he was a form of security that she yielded to. The way I see it: Daenerys usurped Drogo by unintentionally killing him and taking over his khalasar. Then, like a phoenix, she was reborn from Drogo’s ashes with her dragons as Khalessi, Mother of Dragons, leader of her own tribe. You have to admire that transformation—from a weakling to a powerful being. It’s awesome.

It’s easy to become emotionally vested in these characters because they are so believable. They are motivated by their fears and desires and they act according to their nature and the circumstances they are placed in hence the need to keep an open mind. This is not a story with black and white figures, those who a totally evil and those who are totally good. So it is not easy to take sides. One might empathize with a character because of the character’s plight or because of the character’s purpose. For example Tyrion, who no matter what he does is never respected by his father and is often mistreated because he is a misshaped dwarf. There isn’t much to dislike about him in this book unless you can’t stand sarcasm and you have strong morals and dislike the thought of someone bedding whores. In this installment, Tyrion mostly looks out for his own neck since that’s what’s at stake. Otherwise, it seems that he’s not given much to do since he’s a smudge that his family, except his brother Jaime, tries to forget. Later in the series, one can debate the morality of some of his actions and whether they show him as a good person or not.

The same can be said for Arya (another character I admire). She begins this book innocent but by its end, her innocence is stolen when she witnesses the execution of her father. It’s easy to sympathize with her—she’s a young, small girl on her own in the vast and ruthless kingdom of Westeros, and she witnesses various cruelties. But does that validate her later murders? Is it right for her to take the lives of those who have done her wrong or is it okay because those men have helped to “corrupt” her? Again, another character driven by desire, fear, nature, and circumstance. Still, I can’t help liking Arya. She is passionate, strong willed, and a total bad-ass. I have high hopes for her becoming a ninja assassin.

This a great infographic that details the characters' relations.

This a great infographic that details the characters’ relations. Click to see bigger version.

Another thing with GRRM’s characters is that it’s hard to part ways with them. The books tend to stick when you read them and it’s hard to remove them from your mind. Many moons later, you might find yourself replaying episodes or cursing GRRM for killing off a favorite character, which is an annoyance. GRRM has no sympathy for his reader’s emotions. He will leave a favorite character of yours hanging in a precipitous situation and jump to another perspective, not returning to the endangered character until pages later. A warning label should be placed on his books: “Don’t get close to characters. They might die dreadfully.” He doesn’t seem to bat an eye when it comes to killing off a character. If the situation calls for the character to die, it’s possible that the character will.

…Unless GRRM decides to resurrect them later. This is a fantasy novel after all so there are some instances when a character returns. Although, the means by which they return makes me consider them as more of a high-functioning zombie.

Overall, my reread of A Game of Thrones was almost as great as the first time but nothing can beat the first hit. I’m glad to find that the story hadn’t staled and that the plot was just as consuming though I knew what would happen. I plan to work my way through the series again but I’m going to take it slow. Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, is slated to be released in 2017 so my plan is to stretch this reread over two years so I finish A Dance with Dragons as close to that release date as I can get. This is probably an impossible task but I’ll read slowly and take long breaks between books.

A Clash of Kings (book 2) —>

Quotes from the book:

“…the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” [Ned]

“A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” [Ned]

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” [Tyrion to Jon]

“We all need to be mocked from time to time, Lord Mormont, lest we start to take ourselves too seriously.” [Tyrion]

“Know the men who follow you and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.” [Ned]

“Minds are like swords, I do fear. The old ones go to rust.” [Grand Maester Pycelle]

“Folly and desperation are ofttimes hard to tell apart.” [Maester Luwin]

“A king should never sit easy.” [Aegon the Conqueror]

“The man who fears losing has already lost.” [Syrio Forel]

“There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.” [Varys]

“…love is the bane of honor, the death of duty…We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.” [Maester Aemon]

It's easy to mistake him for someone real.
Princeton, NJ

Sharing My Instagram Pics: The “Newspaper Reader”

It's easy to mistake him for someone real. Princeton, NJ

It’s easy to mistake him for someone real.
Princeton, NJ

A friend of mine invited me to Princeton back in March and I was amazed at how quaint the area around the university is. I was expecting a bustling town but instead I found a sleepy one. Well, according to my standards. It was pretty quiet there. While touring the campus, we happened upon this gentleman taking a break from his day to read the daily news. He was quiet stiff. Upon closer look, I realized that he had forgotten his glasses at home and was straining his eyes to read.

So went my thoughts when I saw this 1975 sculpture by J. Seward Johnson Jr. called the “Newspaper Reader.” The man is reading The New York Times. I admire the details in this sculpture—the stitching in his shoes, the lines of his pants, the wrinkles around his eyes. It’s great. I thought it was a real guy before realizing that the newspapers’ pages weren’t moving.

According to Wikipedia, J. Seward Johnson Jr. “is an American artist known for his trompe l’oeil painted bronze statues. He is a grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I (co-founder of Johnson & Johnson) and Colonel Thomas Melville Dill of Bermuda.”

The following links provide more information on the sculpture.

“Tweet, Tweet” Social Media

I finally took the leap and created social media accounts for this blog. Zezee with Books is now on Facebook and Twitter.

I shied away from doing this at first because of the time it would take to manage them but I think I’ll be able to keep up now. I’m more committed this blog and commitment is imperative when it comes to social media, a commitment to provide a constant stream of information for viewers. Plus, these accounts will also make it possible to share tid-bits of information I find interesting but deem too short for a blog post, and also to follow other bloggers on their social media accounts.

So please click on one, or both, of the links above to follow me. I will greatly appreciate it! :)

 

“The Fault In Our Stars” by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars bookWhen my cousin told me he was reading The Fault In Our Stars I quickly copied him and did the same. I had avoided the book for a while though it’s blue cover beckoned at me from the shelves at Barnes & Noble. While I was curious to know what all the hype was about (it’s a bestseller and certain media outlets claim John Green knows what goes on in teenagers’ heads), I shied away from it because I was told the story is sad and I hate to cry (a silly reason). My cousin didn’t cry (so he says) but he enjoyed the story so I purchased the book.

Now, this is probably silly but I do love to smell and caress books. I guess that makes me a book-fondler or something. The Fault In Our Stars (TFIOS) has a smooth, thick jacket. I often rub and run my fingers across it while reading. My hands are sensitive to texture (which means I hate touching corduroy and velvet) so touching such a surface was all the more enjoyable. The pages are also thick, which I was a bit surprised to see since the paperbacks I’ve purchased are of a cheaper quality with thin leaves within that my highlighter sometimes bleed through. But TFIOS’s were of such great quality that I could easily cut myself on them. See, reading is dangerous. Anyways, on to the story.

TFIOS quote 3

I’ve tried many times to summarize this story but I’m unable to do so without falling short in some way. I think the best way to relay this story is to tell everything that happens. To simply state that it’s a story about a girl and a guy who both have cancer and falls in love but one dies is to fall short of the scope of it, the questions it raises, and the emotions it evokes. So instead of a summary (you can read one in one of the related articles below), I’ll jump right into my reflection.

I didn’t like it much. That was my initial reaction. And it’s not the story that I didn’t like. It was the dialogue. I simply could not get used to it. It did not ring true to me. Of course, it is possible that some teenagers do have such advanced philosophical conversations but it was not consistent throughout and often I disbelieved the characters’ diction. Sometimes they sound like teens and other times like middle-aged adults, which was confusing. What annoyed me was when they met Peter Van Houten and for some reason did not know what ontological means. From the conversations they have, I expected them to know.

At first I thought I was being too hard on the book. Maybe I’m not giving it much of a chance, I thought. After all, it did take a while for me to get in to the story but my cousin (and other reviewers) also had issue with the dialogue. It sounds more like John Green talking rather than the characters. But around chapter 21, it became a bit better. When Hazel spoke, it sounded like her rather than overtones of the author. I could feel her emotions through the pages and I could relate.

TFIOS quote 2

Apart from the dialogue, I found this story to be an okay read. I like that it’s not a love-at-first-sight story (well, maybe for Augustus) and that the characters take their relationship slow to develop something substantial. Of course, I love that they bond over a book—An Imperial Affliction. The inclusion of the book, which annoyingly ends in midsentence, is great in that it reveals what Hazel wants. She can invent her own ending since her letters to the author inquiring about the ending are unanswered. When she meets him, Peter Van Houten, she insists on learning the ending.

I like this moment in the book. It shows how desperate Hazel is to know what will become of her parents when she passes away. She needs reassurance and the author refuses to give her one. I find this similar to how some of us humans seek reassurance from God (data, fortune-tellers) on how our future, and those of whom we’re close to, will turn out. Hazel wants for the mother (in the fictional book) and the Tulip Man to be together after the daughter dies because that is what she hopes for her parents. She can handle the harsh truth that she will die but her love for her parents makes her hope for the best for their relationship after she passes.

Of the characters, Peter Van Houten was my favorite. When I realized this, I selfishly wondered what that says about me. Does it mean that I find oddballs and assholes appealing or that I too am somehow trying to numb some pain or erase a memory and I find familiarity in Peter Van Houten? The story perks up a bit when Van Houten is physically introduced. An ornery drunk was not what I was expecting but he does add some color to the story. I like that he is the opposite of what we expect. He isn’t some genius author but just a simple human being who wrote about his experience and is still suffering from it.

Another thing that stuck out was Hazel’s transformation. She blossoms as the story, and her relationship, progresses. We begin the story with her very dependent on her mother but by the story’s end, Hazel is independent and driving herself. And it’s all due to Augustus being in her life. He wakes her up. He lets her realize that she made cancer define her life and she should change that.

“Hazel Grace, like so many children before you—and I say this with great affection—you spend your Wish hastily, with little care for the consequences. The Grim Reaper was staring you in the face and the fear of dying with your Wish still in your proverbial pocket, ungranted, led you to rush toward the first Wish you could think of, and you, like so many others, chose the old and artificial pleasures of the theme park.”

—Although Augustus was trying impress Hazel with this soliloquy, I found it too preachy.

While Augustus is the opposite of Hazel, it was obvious that (SPOILER!!!) he would die. As a character, he was simply an impetus to get Hazel moving again, to help her find meaning in life. With him, she experiences love and has her first sexual encounter. Augustus was her equal, her soul mate, and it was sad to see him removed from the story. That said, I did not like Augustus’ character. Yes, he is a good person—friend, boyfriend, son—but I found it hard to connect with him, mainly because of the dialogue. I think another function of Augustus was to serve as the author’s direct voice in the text so I mostly heard, again, John Green and not the character, especially when he addresses Hazel with imperative sentences telling her how she should live her life.

TFIOS quote 1

Overall, TFIOS was a’ight. I didn’t find it a spectacular read as everyone claims it to be (my cousin didn’t either) but I do believe if the dialogue had fit the characters’ ages and remained consistent throughout, the story would be worthy of its hype. I didn’t cry while reading but there were some sad moments. This is the first book I’ve read by John Green and I plan to read his other works to get an idea of who he is as an author and his writing style. I am curious to know if the dialogue in his stories is always like that in TFIOS. Otherwise, I like him as an entertainer. I started watching his Vlogbrothers episodes on YouTube shortly before reading TFIOS and also his Mental Floss videos. They are both entertaining and Green (and his brother) talks very fast…or they probably just sped up the video. Anyways, cool dude.

Quote from the book:

“Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books…which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”

The related articles below reflect a variety of views. Some enjoyed the story immensely while others found it to be an okay read.

a word on life’s small moments from Anthony Lane

Anthony Lane quote

“We happen upon ourselves when nothing much happens to us, and we are transformed in the process”

—Anthony Lane, from his review of “Boyhood” that appeared in The New Yorker. Lane is a Brtitish journalist and film critic for The New Yorker. I enjoy reading his quip-filled reviews. He is quite entertaining.

Click here for more quotes.

thoughts on Fiction Writing from Annie Weatherwax

quote from Annie Weatherwax

“I learned how to write fiction by understanding the language of visual art.”

“Fiction writing for me has much more to do with the disciplined skill of seeing than with the study of literature. Seeing has little to do with language. In fact, true seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. It is looking at a piece of paper and seeing a tree, then seeing the man who chopped it down, his hands, his face, how he walks. Hidden inside those visual details is the story of his life.”

“Body language can reveal more about character than almost any other detail.”

“The process of finding a character in a hunk of clay is the same as finding a story on a blank page. You must work a piece from all angles and recognize the danger of focusing too quickly on details when the structure and form have not yet been fully established.”

—Annie Weatherwax, from her Op-Ed piece, “The Art of Fiction Writing,” in the Publisher’s Weekly’s Soapbox section. Weatherwax is a visual artist and writer. She spent most of her career sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters for Nickelodeon, DC Comics, Warner Bros., Pixar, and others. Her debut novel, All We Had, will be published by Scribner in August 2014. Visit her website to see her work.

Click here for more quotes.

romance_t700

Bookish Pet Peeves

So I’m sitting in my room lost in a daydream when I see an insect scamper across the wall. Shocked, I immediately jump out of bed and hunt him down. I had never seen an insect like that before and it prompted me to run a Google search. The more I discovered, the more pissed I became which led me to do this post on my bookish pet peeves.

  1. Bending the pages
    • I HATE when people do this to my books. I can hardly tolerate it when they do it to their own or to library books. Treat the books with some respect! Though, there is something charming about a well-worn book that is all bended, folded, scraped, and torn. A book that has been held in many hands and read in myriad places.from frabz
  2. Asking to borrow my books
    • Yes, I am one of those snobbish bibliophiles who hate to loan a book. I’ll even go so far as to purchase the book for you so you’ll leave mine alone (family members and close friends only). It’s selfish and silly but loaning books lead to bended covers, torn pages, and possible loss of the book since borrowers never seem to remember to RETURN what they borrow….speaking from experience on that last one. I refrain from borrowing books. I have a library card. I hardly use it. I’m one of those people who usually have an unnecessarily high library debt. Why? Because I forget. I can’t help it. It’s not intentional, I just do.
  3. Silverfish….and other book-eating bugs
    • The reason for this post. Unfortunately in this world there are insects who love to eat books and even more unfortunate is that my house is plagued with them. Where are they coming from? I don’t know. We recently moved and I guess they were here awaiting our arrival. I’ve seen them a few times at night, lurking in corners, crawling on walls, waiting for me to turn off the lights and go to sleep so they can attack my precious. These bugs are quick, little scampers. They are silvery-grey and have too many legs. They like warm, humid climes and love to feed on starch. They do not bite or spread any diseases and it seems that one could live peaceably with them if one does not mind many-legged insects crawling about the house but I’m not such a person. The mere sight of them is enough to rile me and have me running for the insect spray. So I’ve declared war on them. Prepare to be eliminated little fuckers!
  4. Soggy books
    • I had the misfortune of being caught in a deluge the other day. I was returning from a trip to New York and the sky was bright and sunny. No need to worry about a thunderstorm, I thought. A few minutes walking down the road proved me wrong. The sky quickly grayed and it suddenly began to rain as if the clouds were unable to hold their water once they appeared. Luckily, I had an umbrella but it was of little use! I was soaked within minutes. My suitcase was as well. I was dragging it behind me and it was filled with paperbacks given to me by my aunt. Once I got home and started to unpack, I saw that my books were all crinkled and soggy, the pages sticking together. I almost cried. They were new books. I just hate it when my books are ruined before I’ve had the chance to read them.book overload
  5. Unnecessary tomes
    • I’m thinking of Robert Jordan’s 13-book series (which I am nowhere near finishing). It’s too damn long for no good reason. I am on book five of the Wheel of Time series and I wonder if I will ever finish the books in this lifetime. I am not daunted by large books or long series. What turns me off is when a book is large because the author is stalling, or when chapters are filled with pointless internal dialogue or an overkill on landscape descriptions (all of which Jordan does). I am sure the books could have been condensed to a series that is half of its current amount.

Well, that’s it for my tirade. What are your bookish pet peeves?

Note on the featured image because it’s so cool. It’s a photograph taken by Cara Barer, a photographer based in Houston, Tex. She transforms damaged books into art and also does book-sculpting. I’m in love with her work. I guess it’s the only way I can tolerate a damaged book.