I’m reading Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways Of Looking At The Novel at the moment. It’s a reinvigorating read and reassures you of all the things your novel can be, or not be, in the same way Pinker’s Better Angels Of Our Nature can be used to remind yourself that the human race isn’t all that bad — compared to our previous exploits at least.
Smiley’s book wanders a course through 100 novels, plucking at the variety of methods the novel employs to create it’s unique form. It reaffirms the internal, psychological and ultimately transgressive effect of the novel. It reminds you that, when someone does pick up your novel and let your army of ideas through the gates, it’s your responsibility to do the best with your opportunity — whether that’s to ransack and burn, or a peaceful transfer of power over to your governance.
Writing of peaceful transitions of government, reminds me of the excellent Poems for the Resistance newsletter. Every day you will receive a poem of resistance, and a little of its historical context. As the newsletter claims: “A poem as keeps fascism at bay.”
If you’re the one being invaded, how do you work out whether you’re being a good host or not? What is the etiquette? My favourite of Jane Smiley’s is The Sagas of The Icelanders — which all fans of Vikings should own — and contains an interesting peek at hosts, and how to deal with a bad one.
In Egil’s saga, he and his party are at the hall of another noble, Armod. Now, when you’re told to drink in Viking culture, you drink, especially when there is a toast. Armod’s man, who was entrusted with looking after Egil and his companions, made many toasts to them, asking them to finish their horn every time. Egil, realising that the host was trying to poison them with too much drink, instructed his men to stop drinking, and took theirs instead. Naturally, being the giant of a man that he was, Egil carried on for a few rounds — but when it became too much, Egil stood and walked over to his host, Armod. Egil grabs Armod and shoves him against a post, holding him there — and then proceeds to vomit a torrent on to him, filling Armods nostrils, mouth, eyes, and pouring like a river down his beard.*
So, we know what to do when a host makes us want to vomit under the guise of good cheer or well meaning, don’t we?