One of my very favorite kinds of stories is the story about what happens after the end of the world. If you want me to love your book, you will set it after what most people would consider the main event. How do you go on after something awful has happened?
Books I’ve loved that roughly fall into this category are:
- Among Others, Jo Walton. Mor and her twin sister save the world from their evil and possibly insane witch-mother; Mor’s sister dies and Mor is crippled and after she recovers, she is sent to live with her father and then to boarding school in England. There are fairies. And books and it’s a beautifully written book and I really can’t recommend it highly enough–there is a reason it won All the Awards.
- The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands, Richard K. Morgan. Gil is a veteran of a world-changing war and he’s tired and kind of out of shape and he’s gay in a world that really, really, really hates gay people. And then stuff happens and he finds himself reunited with his war comrades and as much as he might be happy to see them again, he’s still tired.
- Passion Play, Beth Bernobich. Ilse’s about to be sold in marriage to a thoroughly unpleasant man. She runs away and, while dire things still happen (oh, do they ever–serious trigger warnings for the first third or so of the book), she also is forced to grow up and in that process finds out that she’s stronger than she ever thought she could be.
- The Edda of Burdens: All the Windwracked Stars, By the Mountain Bound, The Sea Thy Mistress, Elizabeth Bear. This is a hard one to summarize. Ragnarok happens. The world does not end. And a bunch of other stuff as well. It’s pretty cool.
- The Inheritance Trilogy: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin. This is another series that’s hard to summarize. But there are all sorts of endings and beginnings in all three books and I love them all.
I was thinking about my love of these kinds of books last week and trying to figure out why they work for me in such a visceral way that I will often overlook serious flaws in a book if it’s scratching that particular itch.
And I came to the conclusion that it’s because a part of me still misses my mother, who died 21 years ago today. And that while I did eventually figure out how to pick myself up and go on, part of me hasn’t.
It’s long been my tradition to write something about my mother on the anniversary of her death.
My mother read to me and my sister. She took us to the library and to the bookmobile. She let me have some of her childhood books and she read. She helped me with my completely stupid project in the 5th grade that was about books that I ended up getting a bad grade on at the gifted school (I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do and my teacher was not helpful and it was my first year in the program and yes I am still bitter thankyouverymuch).
I get my love of romance novels from her: the first romance I ever read was Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s Shanna when I was about 13 years old and got a bit of a talking-to about it (she felt that I was too young for romance novels), so subsequent romance novels I read as a teenager were sneaked out of her bedroom and into mine. She was especially fond of “sheik” books and I remember one with an especially lurid fuchsia cover–unfortunately, everything I remember about it is standard “sheik” romance stuff so I’ll probably never know what it was.
My relationship with my mother was not perfect: I don’t think anyone has a perfect relationship with either of their parents and there are certainly things I wish she’d chosen to do differently. But one thing she did do was instill a love of reading in me and that’s something I will always have and be grateful for.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
“Dirge without Music”, Edna St. Vincent Millay