Quotes: Comic Books Should Be in Every Library

Stan Lee, the creator of several superheroes, opines on libraries:

“A library should be a way for a child—for anybody—to get the sort of reading that he or she wants, and hopefully that will benefit them. Not all stories in comic books are great; some may seem silly or ridiculous or a waste of time. But the youngster has to be able to read the book. And for that reason, comic books should be in every library.”

– Stan Lee

Did he just describe comic books as a gateway drug? 🙂

From an interview with Stan Lee for the American Library Association by Mariam Pera, found in American Libraries May 2014, p. 16.

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Quotes: The Dumb Countryside

It’s my stupid birthday again and—poor me!—I’m being dragged off

to the dumb countryside away from my Cerinthus.

Is there anything better than the city? Is the old farm

off by the lazy Arno and Arretium’s fields any place for a girl?

You’re making such a fuss over me, Mesalla, settle down!

Uncaring uncle, this is no time to hit the road!

My heart and mind will stay in Rome even if you take me away,

but you just won’t let me have my way.

– Sulpicia, Poems 2

(My own translation)

Sulpicia is one of the few women whose writings have come down to us from the Roman world. She lived around the late first century BCE. We know very little about her except that she lived with her uncle, Mesalla Corvinus, who was a close friend of the statesman and orator Cicero. In this poem, a teenaged Sulpicia complains about being dragged off to the family’s country estate to celebrate her birthday, leaving her lover Cerinthus behind in Rome.

Cerinthus may not, in fact, be a real person. It was common for Roman poets of the time to write poems to or about imaginary (or at least heavily fictionalized) lovers. The most famous may be Catullus, whose poems chart a tempestuous affair with a woman he calls Lesbia. Often, male poets wrote about their longing for absent lovers or complained about women who stayed away too long. Sulpicia takes that genre and turns it on its head, writing from the point of view of the absent lover and pointing out that it wasn’t her fault she had to be away. A young woman of her age in high Roman society, dependent on the charity of well-meaning but obtuse relatives, had very little control over her own movements.

Roman poetry also often voiced a nostalgic longing to escape the bustle and filth of Rome and return to an idealized country life. Sulpicia turns this convention upside-down as well, disparaging the countryside as dull and lifeless and longing to stay amidst the excitement of the city. And well she might—the charm of the countryside for rich men was in large part the idleness enabled by the labor of slaves, tenant farmers, and the women of the household. A young woman like her would have few opportunities for being on her own or doing what she liked there.

What reads at first glance like a spoiled teenager’s tantrum reveals itself as a clever critique of popular poetic conceits. It’s a shame that more of Sulpicia’s poetry hasn’t survived, but what we have provides a valuable alternative view to set alongside the work of her male contemporaries.

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Quotes: I Only Regret […] Making My Detective a Finn

Christie Cards on the Table Excerpt

“[…] I only regret one thing—making my detective a Finn. I don’t really know anything about Finns and I’m always getting letters from Finland pointing out something impossible that he’s said or done. They seem to read detective stories a good deal in Finland. I suppose it’s the long winters with no daylight.”

– author Mrs. Oliver in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table

This excerpt comes from a Hercule Poirot novel. It’s a page-long burst by an imaginary author who doesn’t really care about getting certain details wrong, for example when one would use a dictograph vs. phonograph. That, of course, leads to feedback from more knowledgeable readers.

Being a Finn, I guffawed! Finns are busy readers indeed these days; it may already have been the case back in the 1930s as well.

(But, good grief, way to insult Romanians and Bulgarians, Christie! There’s a lot of interest in Christie’s writing, but on the other hand a lot of it hasn’t aged well, especially the racism and bigotry.)

Christie, Agatha. Cards on the Table. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011 [1936], p. 66.

Image by Eppu Jensen

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Quotes: The Brain Requires a Constant Flow of Oxygen. Or Tea

“The brain requires a constant flow of oxygen. Or tea.”

– Dr. Ogden in Murdoch Mysteries s. 3 ep. 10, “The Curse of Beaton Manor” (written by Paul Aitken)

That certainly was my mood this morning. Still not quite sure I’m awake a few hours afterwards…!

Introverted Tea Mug

Image by Eppu Jensen

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Quotes: Humans as the Only Generators of Value and Purpose in the World

Author Kelly Robson describes the core conceit of her novel Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach in an interview with Ilana C. Myer:

“The habs, hives, and hells [i.e., city state -like population centers] compete for economic power, and economic power ultimately comes from populations. A free market requires free movement of population, so everyone is free to basically vote with their feet. If they don’t like the quality of life in the hab, hive, or hell they live in, they are free to move to a different one. A hab, hive, or hell with a shrinking population knows that it better change its quality of life offerings if it wants to stop hemorrhaging people.

“It’s a dynamic world that ultimately respects humans as the only generators of value and purpose in the world. I like it.”

– Kelly Robson describing her novel Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Aah, I like it too. 🙂 Plus, voting with your feet is a natural extension of voting with your wallet.

Myer, Ilana C. “Kelly Robson on the Economics of Time Travel in Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.” Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, April 02, 2018.

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Waiting for Mandulis

Then bright Mandulis came from high Olympus

bearing his bright cheeks and walking by the right hand of Isis.

You boast how you provide for the people,

how day and night and all the seasons revere you

and call you kin, Breith and Mandulis,

stars, emblems of the gods rising in heaven.

– Paccius Maximus

(My own translation)

These lines come from a poem written by a Roman soldier named Paccius Maximus and painted on the wall of the temple to Mandulis at Kalabsha, in modern Sudan. We know very little about Paccius besides what he tells us in this and one other poem, but based on some clues he is believed to have been a local African officer in the late Roman army.

Mandulis, often associated with his twin brother Breith, was a Nubian sun god. It’s interesting to note how Paccius readily connected Mandulis with both the Olympian gods and the Egyptian goddess Isis, easily harmonizing Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Nubian religious traditions. His poem gives us a glimpse at how culturally complex and interconnected the world of the Roman empire was.

But, as fascinating as Paccius’ poem is, it’s on my mind today for a different reason.

It snowed here last night. Again. That’s the fifth snowstorm we’ve had this March.

You see this stuff? You see it? I’m sick of it. I like winter just fine, but it’s time for this winter to be over.

Mandulis, wherever you are, we could really use you and your bright cheeks right now. Any time you want to come start providing for us people here, buddy. Any time. I’ll be waiting.

When the suckage just sucks too much.

Quotes: Conflict Is One Kind of Behavior

“Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

I’d like my speculative fiction actually inventive, you know. Just like a human being is rarely reducible to one trait, yet that treatment is often used in storytelling as a shortcut, especially when it comes to characters deemed less important, like women, children, old people, or minorities of various stripes.

Which is not to say that stereotypes, caricatures, or the like don’t or cannot have a place in storytelling. However, if the majority of storytelling focuses on nothing else than characters or story elements reduced to their bare bones, it’s bound to become boring and empty.

There is so much more to our world, let alone imaginary worlds!

Found via Martha Wells on Tumblr.

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To the Lady Queen

An official from a Western superpower arrives in a rich and powerful African kingdom and offers his respect and support to a royal woman. It may sound like Everett Ross from Black Panther, but it’s actually two millennia older:

Good fortune to the Lady Queen, may she live happily for many years. Acutus came from the city and [saw the place (?)] on the 15th of April.

(My own translation)

This inscription, the southernmost Latin inscription yet discovered, comes from Musawwarat es-Suffra in modern-day Sudan, which in antiquity was part of the kingdom of Kush. Kush, often called Meroë by Greek and Roman authors after its capital city, was a powerful state on the central Nile river. After the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE, the Roman Empire and Kush fought a brief border war, but the Kushan Queen Amanirenas soon made a peace treaty with Rome that was respected by both sides for centuries to come. (Greco-Roman authors mistakenly call Amanirenas “Candance,” which is not a name but a Kushan title for a royal woman.)

This inscription, which is in rather poor condition and cannot be read fully, probably dates to sometime in the third century CE. The Acutus who dedicated it was most likely a Roman envoy (“the city” being Rome) who had come to Kush on diplomatic business. His effusive good wishes to another (unnamed) ruling queen were in keeping with how Roman ambassadors demonstrated respect for foreign rulers. This inscription shows that Rome regarded its relationship with Meroë as worth maintaining with proper diplomatic dignity. Kush profited handsomely from facilitating trade between the Roman Mediterranean and both sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean, and had every reason to encourage ongoing good relations.

The history of interactions between Europeans and Africans is filled with bloodshed and inhumanity. It is understandable how appealing Black Panther‘s fantasy of an isolated African state untouched by European invasion or interference is to many fans. But it is also worth remembering that isolation is not the only option, and history also contains examples of European-African contacts that were peaceful and respectful.

Image: CIL III 83 via Adam Łajtar and Jacques van der Vliet, “Rome-Meroe-Berlin. The Southernmost Latin Inscription Rediscovered (“CIL” III 83),” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 157 (2006), 193-198.

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Quotes: A Woman Who is Always Going on About the Grammatical Arts

And don’t get me started on the woman who, as soon as she sits down to dinner,

lauds Vergil, makes excuses for the fallen Dido,

pits the poets against each other, and weighs up

Maro and Homer in a balance scale.

Teachers give way, professors are vanquished, the whole crowd

falls silent, the lawyers and hawkers can’t get a word in—

not even another woman!

Don’t sit down to dinner with a woman

of that loquacious sort who slings a tricky syllogism

with her whirling talk, who knows all the histories,

but rather one who isn’t well read.

I can’t stand a woman who is always going on about the grammatical arts,

whose talk is always in tune with the laws of logic

and who has some verses of an antique poet I’ve never heard of on her lips.

– Juvenal, Satires 6.434-40, 448-54

(My own translation)

This bit of the Roman satirist Juvenal’s harangue against women—directed at those who have the audacity to read books, have opinions on them, and not give way to men who think they know better—sounds to me a lot like certain modern men’s bellyaching on social media about women who insist on having opinions on comic books, sci-fi movies, video games, or other pieces of popular culture.

There are two broad schools of thought on Juvenal. One takes his curmudgeonly satires at face value and sees him as a butt-hurt bro throwing a tantrum. I incline towards the other school of thought which sees Juvenal’s satiric persona as a put-on performance, like Stephen Colbert’s old schtick. The real target of Juvenal’s ire was not well-read women but his fellow Roman men who were sore about women having ideas about books they hadn’t even read themselves.

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Quotes: One Should Not Seek Ugliness in This World

“One should not seek ugliness in this world. There is no lack of it. You will find it soon enough, or it will find you.”

– Sigrud je Harkvaldsson in City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Although my life has been very different from that of a Dreyling operative and assassin, I agree. (For instance, I’ve never understood the appeal of vampire or horror genres, but to each their own.)

Bennett, Robert Jackson. City of Miracles. New York: Broadway Books, 2017, p. 177.

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