Friday, March 14, 2008

Refuge in books for both our heroes (Books - Lirael by Garth Nix)

Regular readers probably know that I've been doing graduate classes in neuroscience over the last couple of years after a 20+ year career directing, acting and teaching in theater and opera. I find cognitive neuroscience a fascinating area. It examines what we can learn about cognition - perceiving the world around us, reasoning, remembering - both when they work well and when they breakdown or achieve the same ends differently - by studying the intersection of behavior and the workings of the nervous system. The field is multidisciplinary and quite broad, ranging from those that build computer models of cognitive processes, to those who look at the chemicals that course through the nervous system to encourage cells to fire or hold their fire, to the study of the structure or electrical properties of those cells, to the traces of electricity left behind by the those cells that can be made into pictures of neural activity, to those who look at behavior by incorporating measures of motivation, intention or reaction time.

In any event, I applied to a doctoral program here in New York and found out formally yesterday that I was accepted! Woo-hoo! I'll start in the fall, continuing work at the same lab at which I've been working this past year. Since I will be taking classes within the same university system, I will merely change which office does the bookkeeping but that will probably mean going through some ridiculously byzantine process to transfer credits between programs after being told in 100 ways that it isn't possible. Anyhoo, today I should probably just rejoice and worry about how bureaucracy will screw up my life later. I hope I will have more good news about fellowships shortly.

And all this sturm and drang explains my comfort reading. Lirael is the second book in Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy recommended by your friend and mine, Imani. It falls into the YA fantasy genre and this second book, like the first, features a young heroine in a communal environment who does not fit in. She has not yet come into her powers as a daughter of the Clayr - a sect of seers. I am enjoying the metaphor Nix has set up for a late bloomer. Lirael is suffering with the a passion few but teenagers can muster. She contributes heartily to her own misery by isolating herself but eventually finds a way out of herself when she works in the library. So the romance of books and knowledge provides a refuge for a societal other - a story that is close to my heart. Fans of Harry Potter will find satisfying similarities - a big fat book, a young and unpopular central figure, magic charms - but this series has a very different feel to it. Unlike HP it is a little more classical-fantasy in its language and characters. The Rowling series struggled hard to make its world feel contemporary. This doesn't have that Harry-and-his buddies feel - so far this heroine is on her own. Even over 100 pages into the story she has encountered only a handful of people, only two have been particularly helpful. Interestingly, although this is a series, there have been few mentions of the characters and activities in the first book. There are some, but we aren't back to Hogwarts, as it were. This book has an entirely new setting and even central character.


Anonymous said...

Congrats! And if you figure out the transfer credit bug-a-boo, let me know your secret. I'll be doing the same thing here... I'm sending good thoughts your way re: fellowships (although I'm sure you have that part nailed!).

Ted said...

Sarah- Thanks very much. Think about how much more time we'd have for reading if bureaucracies actually ran smoothly!

Imani said...

Oi, bureaucracies. You have my sympathies but even moreso my congratulations! Hurray for you!

Lirael is my least favourite of the three books, which isn't saying much since I like all of them, but yes, our good ol' Sabriel won't figure much at all until the third book and she was my favourite character. I think I found Lirael a bit too angsty? Which fits in with your Harry Potter comparison since Harry went through a bit of that himself.

Ted said...

Imani - Thanks for your wishes.
Yes, Lirael is angsty - that's a good description. Somehow that's sat very well for me this week. It's the type of reading that's diverting and comfortable, but not exciting.

Jill said...

I recently listened to the audio version of this book (Tim Curry reads it and is amazing). What a great trilogy! And yes, Lirael is a bit angsty in the second book, but in the third one, once she's found her way - her goal in life - she truly comes into her own.