Darkest Mercy

Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

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This book ends the Wicked Lovely series. I’ve enjoyed the other books and the ending that this book gives to the various narrative strains. All out war between the fairy courts made this volume an exciting climax to the entire series. In addition to the action, there were some intriguing dramatic and romantic scenes, with characters making big choices, some of which seemed surprising, yet inevitable. As the novel opens, the characters are positioned like chess pieces, threatening or protecting each other. Aislynn and Keenan, the Summer Queen and King, are each in love with another and struggling to rule their court together without being together. One thing I really appreciate about this series is that Aislynn doesn’t fall for Keenan, despite all the magic urging her to.

The motivations for some of the characters sometimes seemed weak because they were based on “rules” of the fairy world, like the need for balance between the courts, or the fact that Summer must be happy and when the Summer King and Queen aren’t happy and aren’t together, their court is weak. Bananach, the villain, the embodiment of Disorder, nicknamed War, was transparent in this same way.

If you grant Marr the right to make the rules for her world, though, these criticisms fade slightly. They also pale in comparison to the quality of her prose, which is far better than average for YA lit.

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favorite YA authors for lots of reasons. She blends the real and the fantastic in a way that makes you believe that amazing things are hiding beneath the surface of your own life too. She can write a love scene with no kissing that’s as hot as any erotica, because she fills every word with longing, and with the knowledge that love is forbidden and life is short. The Dream Thieves is the second in a series, and it builds on the first book and takes it to a new level. We learn a lot more about Ronan, the broody guy who gets into a lot of fights and has a raven for a pet. There’s also a hit man, some really scary nightmare creatures, and 100 white Mitsubishis.

Stiefvater is one of very few YA writers I can think of who even mentions class issues in her novels. In this series class issues reflect the most pressing problems of today: the extreme differences between the super-rich and everyone else. In this book we meet Gansey’s mother, who’s running for office, at an opulent party for donors. Adam, the scholarship student, repeatedly refuses his friend’s financial help and has a bit of a meltdown. Golden boy Gansey actually looks outside himself to see that poverty (and to him middle/lower middle class = poverty) does not, in fact, cause moral deficiencies. A few of the richest characters are revealed to have ‘earned’ their money through literally dreaming it into existence.

I heard that there’s a movie deal on these books, and I’m glad. I can’t wait to read the final novel!

Commencement speeches

Today is graduation day for the school where I teach. I know it’s unusual to have graduations in December, but we have an unusual school. In honor of my students, I’m posting a selection of excerpts from great commencement speeches I’ve read online. Enjoy!

Joss Whedon at Wesleyan, May 2013

The only way, really, to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who’s spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it.

This connection is part of contradiction. It is the tension I was talking about. Because tension isn’t about two opposite points, it’s about the line being stretched in between them. And we need to acknowledge and honor that tension and the connection that that tension is a part of. Our connection, not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around.

Julianna Baggott at Florida State University, 2013

I understood that if I sacrificed having children for my career, I’d resent my writing. If I gave up writing to have kids, I’d resent my kids. Those were my issues, yours will be your own. But this should still stand – Living a resentment-free life requires awareness of what you might regret. Be vigilant for the onset of resentment and create a life that defies it.

George Saunders at Syracuse, 2013 

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Jon Lovett at Pitzer College, May 2013

…this earnestness, this authenticity, will help you succeed in a society that is demanding those qualities with both hands.

All you have to do is avoid BSing yourself — in whatever you choose to do. To avoid the path of the sad gay judge filled with regret. To go forward with confidence and an eagerness to learn. And to be honest with yourselves, and others — to reject a culture of insincerity by virtue of the example you set in your own lives.

Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts, 2012

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College, 2005

Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.