What’s Making Me Happy: April 2016

Audiobooks.

“Read me a story.” Short-sighted people believe this is a pleasure we outgrow by the age of ten, but of course those people aren’t paying attention to the popularity of audiobooks. The more I listen, the more I feel that audiobooks are a marvelously comforting and stimulating hearkening-back to the oral tradition, to a time when one absorbed a tale through the ear rather than the eye, and listening, remembering, and repeating were essential skills. The oral tradition draws in young and old alike.

I’ve been enjoying two very different novels-on-CD this month: Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni. At first I found the narrator of the former, Jack Garrett, sounded rather like the “Honest Trailers” guy, and I found the resemblance a distraction. But the more the story drew me in, the more I liked his voice. Now I’m learning how all those made-up words and names (e.g. Kiin, Ahan, Telrii) should be pronounced. (Apparently “J” is always “Y” in Sanderson’s worlds.) The latter’s narrator, George Guidall, is a mature man whose gentle Semitic accent perfectly suits Wecker’s novel, set in an ethnically diverse turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York. I enjoyed both these works when I read them in print, and it’s a joy to revisit them in a new form and remember why, and how much.

The Fell Sword.

Sometimes my heart yearns for a good old-fashioned fantasy epic with a sprawling cast, action sequences full of heroic (and not so heroic) derring-do, monsters, dastardly villains, and magic as a neatly integrated part of the furniture. Miles Cameron’s Traitor’s Son Cycle is such a series, and The Fell Sword is its second volume. It’s been compared to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and I expect a good many fans of Martin’s work would find much to like here, including violence, political machinations, and a dash of moral ambiguity in the “good” guys. But this saga, I find, has a lighter, more frequently humorous tone, and while traditional gender roles do come into play, this world isn’t quite as brutally misogynistic as Martin’s Westeros; rape is an occasional rather than an omnipresent threat. And I like Cameron’s women — the female knight Ser Alison (who, unlike Martin’s Brienne of Tarth, has the respect of most of her colleagues), the wise-woman seamstress Mag, and the magically gifted nun Amicia, a devout woman depicted sympathetically — better than most of Martin’s.

Blindspot.

I started watching this freshman mystery series, about a tattooed amnesiac woman who becomes the linchpin for a series of cases worked by a team of dedicated but flawed FBI agents, because I relished seeing Jaimie Alexander, whom I’ve loved as Lady Sif in the Thor films (darn it, why does Thor keep looking at other women when Sif is right there?), as the center of her own show. As I expected, she’s awesome. But I’ve come to enjoy the entire diverse cast, which offers a satisfying punch in the eye to the Smurfette Principle. Many shows would have expected us to be content with Alexander alone, but this one also gives us a tough Latina agent battling her own demons, a gay black woman (the superb Marianne Jean-Baptiste) as the team’s director, and a blonde computer specialist and puzzle expert who, in her spare time — insert squeal of delight here — plays Dungeons & Dragons! Yes, girls and women play D&D too, and it’s wonderful to have a TV show acknowledge this at last, even if it is only in a throwaway moment in an episode that focuses on something else entirely. The mysteries are tight and involving, both the stand-alone cases and the ongoing arcs, but for me, the people make it worth watching.

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