31 October 2010

Day 218: Cleopatra

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.  ISBN: 9780316001922 (ARC - releases Nov. 1, 2010).

Although it got tedious at times, I rather like that Schiff reminded the reader that, despite her conquests, Cleopatra wasn't exactly a looker.  Apparently even in her time a largish hooked (Greek) nose was considered unattractive.  The idea that Cleopatra captivated both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony almost completely through wit ought to make her the role model of generations of women.

Granted, having a crap-ton of money probably greatly added to Cleopatra's allure, but there's hope for us plain-looking girls yet.  I doubt she was actually ugly, although Schiff gives us plenty of evidence that they didn't understand her attraction, particularly the fawning behavior of Mark Antony.

Given that Roman men were probably somewhat hard pressed to find well educated and outspoken women, Cleopatra was a rarity.  I know that all the men I've dated have been pleased with my intellect and humor even where my looks don't meet expectations.  Danny has been with me so long that, even if he notices, he doesn't see my unattractiveness.

It's kind of nice to see this kind of narrative pop up, even if it is ancient history.  So often the people who are covered seem to be either male or extraordinarily beautiful women.  I rather wish there was more focus on plain or unattractive women who have accomplished remarkable things, but this is a time of year where sexy-anything costumes are available, some more disgusting than others.  I think I would much rather talk to a young woman dressed up as Susan B. Anthony or Harriet Tubman than a woman dressed up as Sexy Little Orphan Annie.  In fact, that last thing is so terrifying that I don't think I can continue with this post.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

30 October 2010

Day 217: Cleopatra

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.  ISBN: 9780316001922 (ARC - releases Nov. 1, 2010).

I'm not much of an armchair traveler, but I think this is a novel for those of you who are.  If I had to armchair travel anywhere, it would definitely be somewhere in ancient history.  The modern day version isn't really all that much fun as it just makes me wish I had the money to travel (since I have the time now) and while the futuristic version is appealing, it's all based on guesswork and fantasy.  Armchair traveling to ancient Rome on the other hand, is at least based on the ruins left over from the Roman Empire.  There is some concrete fact or influence in the fictions and non-fictions created about the ancient and even not-so-ancient world.

Schiff does an excellent job of painting a picture of both Ancient Rome and Egypt.  Since I don't know where her footnotes/endnotes have actually been placed, she starts a lot of sentences with "Cleopatra knew" and "Cleopatra wore" and "We don't know what Cleopatra looked like, but...."  In this way we are given an image of Cleopatra's life that is perhaps more vivid than previous caricatures, but I'm not sure it's any more accurate than what we already have.  This is a time when vast amounts of information were destroyed and/or stolen on a regular basis.  Cleopatra's history does not survive through her own hand or the hand of her people, but through Rome's.  Therefore, as interesting as her life was, as far as I know the bulk of it is still rumor and intrigue.

So to be able to actually see her court and see the pyramids would be incredible.  To observe the rise and fall of the Nile and the erection of new monuments would be amazing beyond words.  Since I am not capable of this through the unfortunate combination of time and space I have to settle for a historian's accounting of what it might have been like to witness these things.  Fiction provides slightly richer details usually, but then I get sidetracked trying to figure out how much of the narrative is accurate.

If I could time travel to any place in ancient history, I think Egypt would be pretty high on the list given its advanced (for the time) medical technologies, culture, and libraries.  Japan and China would also be somewhere near the top.  Where do you like to travel to from the comfort of your own home?

My review can be found on Goodreads.

29 October 2010

Day 216: The House of Dead Maids

The House of Dead Maids by Claire B. Dunkle. ISBN: 9780805091168.

This is obviously a ghost story, so I can't get away with covering this book without talking about ghosts. The character known as Himself (and later Heathcliff) states that he would rather die and come back to haunt everyone than leave the house he will become the master of. Himself is actually a fabulous character and far more amusing than Tabby. I really wish this story had been told from his point of view instead, he seems so twisted and out of the ordinary through Tabby's eyes, but I get the feeling he's just a little more imaginative than her English countryside chambermaid sensibilities allow her to be.

In any case, I can kind of identify with the desire to come back as a ghost and haunt people. It's something that greatly appeals to me, being able to mess with people with no consequences. What's the worst thing you can do to a ghost? Exorcise them? Okay, great, I get to go to heaven!

In the meantime, that slight mean streak I have would get a chance to run its course. I doubt that I'd do much more than try to spook obnoxious children, I'm more mischievous than malicious after all. But I definitely get a perverse thrill from the idea of moving around personal items, slamming kitchen cabinets, and showing up in mirrors in otherwise empty rooms. None of these things actually hurt people directly, but they don't exactly make for pleasant living experiences either.

I suppose in someways I “haunt” whatever cat I am living with at the moment. I very much enjoy surprising them. There's something absolutely hilarious about this supposedly very dignified creature (as dignified as you can get when you lick your own butt) jumping two feet in the air just because you moved your foot when they weren't expecting it. Clawtooth, my roommate's cat, is especially easy to scare when he's in Freakout Mode. When he's already worked up it's almost too easy to scare him. Sometimes all you have to do is say “boo!” and he crouches down with his ears laid back before sprinting off into the next room, the sound of his nails gripping the carpet all the way.

There's just that sick and twisted part of me that wants to see if I can make another person react that way. Not out of any particular meanness, but because I think it might be fascinating and hilarious to watch the reaction.  How big is your mean streak?  Would you continue wandering the earth just to mess with people's heads?  Would you haunt a particular person?  Why?  Have you ever been haunted before?

My review can be found on Goodreads.

28 October 2010

Day 215: The House of Dead Maids

The House of Dead Maids by Claire B. Dunkle. ISBN: 9780805091168.

On a similar note to yesterday's post, I very much hated going to church up until I actually had the choice of whether or not to go.  In The House of Dead Maids, the main character, Tabby, first gets her chance to skip church and has this to say about it,

“The thought that I might choose – that I might go or not go as I pleased – awakened in me guilty relief.” Page 23.

I remember having similar feelings the first time I was given the option of not going to church. We didn't exactly go every week, but if our parents went, so did the kids and there was no arguing about it until we were well into our teenage years. By that time I started to get more involved in the church so it wasn't as big of a hassle to go except when the adults remembered they actually had a youth group and tried to foist a Religious Education program on us. These programs were usually too young or too old for us in terms of interest, content, and/or approach.

Eventually my mother, who was in the Air Force at the time, got stationed to Mississippi and I stopped going to church. We had the option of going to a church in Mobile, Alabama, which was only about 30 minutes away, but the thought of starting all over again to rebuild a youth group was overwhelming and I just didn't want to do it only to move away again for college in two years.

In college I went to church a couple of times once I got my car. I attended the Quaker church once or twice as it was conveniently located on campus. And I even tried going to church when I was on co-op. I kept hoping it would be a way to connect to people and not be so lonely during some of my loneliest times, but it seemed like the church people were only really interested in me because I was a young person and might pull more young people in. Little did they seem to realize that they needed to keep my attention first in order for that to happen.  Instead of really doing that they asked me the same questions over and over at coffee hour and when they finished with those questions, rather than engaging me in real conversation, they passed me on to the next member.

I went back to church again when I started grad school, for more or less the same reason, and got more or less the same treatment. I'm sure if I had stuck with it, I might have developed relationships with these people and moved past the Form Questions, but I needed more than that, and I needed it quickly otherwise it was just no good.

Another problem I have with going to church is that I have no desire to sit through sermons that bore me to death. I can put up with a somewhat droll speaker if their content is interesting, I can even sit through a good oration about a boring topic, but droll and boring? Not gonna happen. I actually preferred some of the congregations that didn't have ministers, because it meant that the speaker would change based on who in the congregation wanted to give a sermon or present a topic that week. These were often more informative and varied and more likely to keep my attention than anything else.

I haven't gone to church since Easter.  I went then mostly because it was one of my favorite services. Unitarians have so few rituals that I think we tend to be especially drawn to church when it's a special service.  I would like to go back to church and actually get involved again. But I feel like I need to be part of a community to actually feel at home, I need a little more permanence to really make it worth the effort of getting to know a congregation's worth of people. I also need thought-provoking sermons that will be worth the effort of listening to them, otherwise it's just social hour and I can do that just about anywhere.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

27 October 2010

Day 214: It's Good to be Alive

It's Good to Be Alive: Observations from a Wheelchair by Jack Rushton.  ISBN: 9781599554082.

Rushton manages to do quite a bit of preaching in his less than page long essays. I fear that sometimes my blog posts come off as a little preachy. I worry that this is unappealing to some readers, but I also think that speaking directly to an audience is often more effective and engaging than focusing just on myself. Part of it may also be a latent desire to be a minister.

When I was a teenager I was very involved in the Unitarian Universalist church. I went to youth conferences, I went to church every Sunday, we even held teen worship nights over at my house, and I was involved in church politics. We were not a very large group, there were maybe eight of us at our most active, but the church seemed to enjoy the status that comes with having a large and active (for UU) youth group, if not necessarily the hormones and spastic energy that came with it.

At one point the group decided we should give a sermon to the congregation. It was something along the lines of “We have all been teenagers at one point or another, it is a difficult time, so even though you may not understand all of our behavior, please show us compassion and understanding.” It was perhaps not the most inspirational or thought provoking sermon, but people seemed to enjoy it and we got a few laughs here and there on the funny parts.

The experience made me want to do it on a weekly basis. I enjoyed writing the oration, selecting the hymns and poetry, and pulling together several different thoughts into one coherent message. I would probably make a fairly good minister and be dedicated to my congregation, if it weren't for one problem.

I'm not a big people person.

It's not that I don't like people, because I do. I am just very selective about the people I want to be around and I get somewhat resentful when I have to spend more time than absolutely necessary with people I don't like. This is sometimes accelerated when you throw politics in the mix, and there are no politics quite like church politics. I guess I always thought people ought to behave a little better than normal when they're at church, even if it is a heathen Unitarian church. Instead it seems that because religion is such a personal thing people get even more bent out of shape if their personal agenda isn't carried through. I'm less interested in ministering to people's egos than I am to their minds and souls (however you define that).

I think I'll stick with my sometimes preachy blogging and hope that my flock at least finds my sermons interesting, even if they don't always agree with my politics.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

26 October 2010

Day 213: It's Good to be Alive

It's Good to Be Alive: Observations from a Wheelchair by Jack Rushton.  ISBN: 9781599554082.

I have had the privilege in my life to know and be friends with some pretty amazing people.  One such person is a paraplegic, who I will refer to as JS, because privacy and I haven't asked if I could use her name.  I met JS at Antioch College and was blown away by her.  Not only is she extremely smart and personable (if somewhat shy), but she had to deal with far more Antioch bullshit than I think any five people combined.

Because Antioch is sadly not set up for people with mobility issues.  The sidewalks are utter crap and consist mostly of broken and breaking asphalt, there was only one dormitory that was wheelchair accessible, and she had to use the freight elevator just to get in the library.  Despite all this she seemed to have no regrets about attending Antioch and was more than willing to educate about her condition.

I happened to have the utter joy of being able to have her as a neighbor for a couple of terms and I loved it.  We would occasionally sit together in the hallway working on projects together.  I was able to ask her questions about appropriate behavior, particularly concerning the issue of how much help is "too much" help.  I tried to always ask if she needed or wanted help rather than automatically assuming she needed it.  As someone who had limited mobility she needed to keep active in order to maintain the amount of mobility she had.  This included using a manual chair instead of an electric.  It meant she needed assitance getting across campus, but had the benefit of forcing her to use her arm muscles.

The more I've come to know JS, the more personal my questions have been.  I have never expected answers, but I have appreciated JS's openness and willingness to answer more often than not.  JS also wrote a weekly column for the Antioch Record and broached subjects and questions that it wouldn't even occur to me to ask.  All this talk makes it sound like she is A Person in a Wheelchair, but she is so much more than that.  Even though she recognizes and incorporates the wheelchair as a part of who and what she is, she in no way lets it limit her and what she can do (within reason).

My review can be found on Goodreads.

25 October 2010

Day 212: a general update

Yay!  I finished another batch of books and I'm starting my second one.  I've actually already read one and a half of them, but I'm trying to stay ahead on my blogging because...

I'm going to try to do NaNoWriMo this year.

I will be writing a collection of Rupert stories, the best of which I will attempt to get published or end up self-publishing.  Anyone who would like to assist me in this endeavor can do so by offering to write guest posts so I can slack a bit on blogging, and/or offer up ideas for Rupert stories.  I intend to publish said stories in collections of 5-8 and since I will be writing something like 40 of them over the course of NaNoWriMo, this means I will be able to publish material for a while.  Given the publishing industry I will probably not be able to make them available online, and you should want to buy them for all of your family and friends anyway.  I hope to have line drawings available in the book and I highly encourage people to color their pictures.  Perhaps I will make the coloring pages available online.

I am not actually shooting for the completion of the 50,000 word mark as I think that would involve writing far more Rupert stories than what would actually be good for my mental health, but if I hit that goal I will be especially happy.  Each story is roughly 1200 words long and takes about half an hour to forty-five minutes to write assuming I already have the story idea in mind (which I usually do).

Anyway, because I'm doing NaNoWriMo, you'll be seeing a lot of guest posts and a lot of shorter novels, and perhaps even short story collections.  This means I will likely be reading teen and juvenile literature.  For people who enjoy the posts about adult literature, I apologize, but keep reading, I'll be back in December with more mature books...perhaps I will even make December my Highfalutin' Smut month, that'll drive you all away.  On to the book list for this section!

Observations from a Wheelchair by Jack Rushton.
Got this one from the Goodreads First Reads program.  As soon as it came to me in the mail I realized I had made a mistake in requesting it, and sure enough, it turns out it was a collection of somewhat over-sweet family newsletter type essays.  I don't necessarily regret reading it, but I rather wish it had been something else, and it managed to sit around unread for awhile.

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle.
Mostly picked this up for the length and the creepy cover.  It's apparently influenced by Wuthering Heights, but either it's been too long since I've read the novel or else its influences are too subtle for me to pick up on other than some borrowed characters.  So far the story has been fairly creepy, or so I imagine since I'm not terribly prone to scare from books.  It is told in the past tense, so unless something really spooky happens it seems to be pointing to a less-than-terror-filled ending.  I will probably be completely wrong as Dunkle may pull a 6th Sense on me.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.
The first of two Lowry's I plan to read in this group.  I've been meaning to read this title for something like years.  There is such a variety of Holocaust fiction out there that it's hard to know how much of it to read and what.  I do not necessarily feel compelled to read Holocaust literature, but something tells me I ought to read this one.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry.
This is the companion to The Giver.  That book had such an amazing impact on my life that I doubt it will come anywhere close in tone, content, or influence.  However, I'm not actually expecting it to, so I hope to still enjoy it.  I've read a couple of reviews, and mostly they just complain about it not being as good as The Giver without actually saying anything about its own merits or faults.  Given that this was published ~10 years after the first book it's no surprised that this flew under my radar, but I sort of wish I had known about it in 2002, if only because I think I would have had different thoughts about it then.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.
I want to add more L's to this man's name, if only for symmetry's sake.  You'll have to pardon me if you see Phillip written in any of my posts.  So this is the last of His Dark Materials.  I'm pretty eager to finish it up and see what happens to Will and Lyra's worlds.  I'm tempted to pick up another Pullman almost right away, but that would make for 3+ of his works in succession.  I feel like I have enough repeat authors as it is with Gail Carriger, Neil Gaiman, and Suzanne Collins.  Hmm, maybe I'll be picking up the Gregor series from Collins for NaNoWriMo, damn you, series-writing authors!

Tenderness by Robert Cormier.
This seems dark even for Cormier.  Once again, I picked it up mostly for the length, or lack thereof.  This is a somewhat unusual trend for me; when I was reading stuff by Cormier on a regular basis I tried to pick the thickest books possible so I would be sure not to run out of reading material before I went to the library again.  Now I find myself going against that behavior, but it's nice to see that there are slimmer volumes by authors I know and love and can expect good stories from.  I imagine Cormier will be able to handle the complexities presented on the dust jacket (a boy who murdered his parents gets together with a girl who is sexually promiscuous...no wonder I didn't find this one in high school).

Grace by Elizabeth Scott.
I had this on my reading list at some point and after reading another blogger's review took it off.  Now it's back on because it meets my page requirements for NaNoWriMo and I figured why not give it a try.  Suicide bomber angels...okay!

These posts will likely be interspersed with guest posts once we get into November, I also have a few more posts coming from Consider the Lobster and Adaptations, the previous essay/short story collections I read.  Let me know if there are short-ish novels you want me to write about and I'll see if I can get my hands on them.  Also...Rupert ideas, I could use them.

24 October 2010

Day 211: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushie.  ISBN: 9780670838042.

I mentioned in the previous post that another underlying theme in this book is about the necessity of contrasts.  This is best demonstrated by the two halves of the moon Kahani, one that was constantly in daylight and the other in dark.  The people in the dark seemed to be the ones to suffer the most negative side effects, living in silence under an oppressive regime.  They also had shadows who became more like individual entities.  These were initially a benefit, the shadows could act on their own and were treated as people.  However, as they were led by a corrupt person, people and their shadows turned against each other.   Having an enemy you have no way of getting away from is not exactly a benefit.

I almost take issue with the fact that Rushdie made darkness the "bad" side.  I wish there had been more balance in his actual portrayal of the sides, but since it is only told from the viewpoint of persons on the daylight side, we don't actually get to see if there are any advantages to living in darkness and silence, of which there must be some.

I'm definitely a person who thrives more in quiet.  I find it difficult to concentrate when there's noise around.  This tends to be why I don't really listen to music often.  I sometimes make the mistake of trying to write blog posts while watching something on Netflix.  It gets done, but it requires quite a bit more mental energy to keep my thoughts in line.  My editor can probably even tell the difference between posts since I obviously make more mistakes when I'm distracted.

I think it's easier to be more creative in the darkness than in the daylight.  Darkness sort of breeds imaginative thoughts.  Just think of when you were a child.  How many permutations of monsters did your mind come up with?  How many boogeymen and scarecrows?  But also, how many wonders filled your mind when you looked at the night sky or caught fireflies or watched fireworks?  What about listening to the owls and the crickets and the coyotes?

But we can't stay in that state forever, in fact I doubt we would be so inspired by darkness if we were surrounded by it all the time.  The daytime provides us with a chance to be physically active, but the darkness is a time of reflection.  Activity is great, but we can't process without periods of rest.

An excellent review can be found at The Book Brothel, scandalous.

23 October 2010

Day 210: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushie.  ISBN: 9780670838042.

This is one of those truly amazing stories that is so simple on the surface, but allows you to ingest a deeper meaning.  In Haroun, Rushdie refers to good story telling as being able to juggle multiple items without dropping any.  Rushdie makes this look completely effortless by weaving an incredible story on top of underlying themes about knowledge, censorship, the neglect of tradition, the need for opposites and contrasts, and what I believe is also commentary about the publishing industry "dirtying" the waters.

The fact that Rushdie is able to do this in a children's story without actually detracting from it or even pushing it on the reader is pretty incredible.  I can only dream of writing something like that.  I think I'm going to talk about the publishing industry a bit here, because lately I've been kind of disappointed with my reading options.

I don't really think there is a publishing industry anymore.  It's definitely more about marketing and Big Name Talent than anything else.  I believe that publishers are willing to and have published books purely based on how well they sell rather than on the quality or originality of the work.  And I believe as readers we are suffering for it.  I mean this.  We don't even get quality work from writers who are actually capable of producing it, because no editor wants to be responsible for having a Big Name walk just for the integrity of the work.

In the past these are the writers who would have produced only one novel because other publishing houses seemed to keep an eye on potentially troublesome authors.  Now you have people dropping publishing houses left and right for better deals or because the editors are too "harsh."  After reading some of the drivel that's actually been published, guys, your editors are there for a reason. Please, use them.  You may be able to produce amazing works with your eyes closed, but you still need someone to point out that you managed to spill soup on your tie and forgot to tie your shoelaces.  You can be a genius and just not see, "Oh, there's a continuity error that I must have missed because I've been working on this 500 page manuscript for the last 3 years with little to no sleep."

And I think this unwillingness for people Who Have Made It Big to actually listen to their editors has produced a load of less-than-what-it-could-be work.  Not to mention, publishers are buying what they think will sell in quantity rather than searching for quality along the same lines.  I will use the example of vampire novels and paranormal romance, because right now that is the big thing, and omg there is a lot of sparkling poop in that particular genre right now because people (for some reason unknown to me) keep eating it.

Paranormal romances are selling for the same reason that regular romance novels are selling: because they don't usually require a whole lot of brain cell activity.  You can just kind of read and absorb and when you're done, you still feel hungry and are willing to shove more junk in as many face-holes as possible.  There is no possible way that even a good writer is able to keep up with that kind of demand, so instead publishers try to find mediocre writers who can vomit stories faster than you can max out your credit card buying them all.

And just like in Haroun, as the Sea of Stories gets more and more polluted, as the old stories are neglected and tainted by anti-stories, the sicker we get as a people of storytellers and listeners.  What's worse is that it seems to be going by completely unnoticed.  Instead of reading something and saying, "Wow, that was a terrible book," it seems that people are instead shrugging and saying, "It wasn't as bad as the novel I read last week, maybe I'll pick up the next in the series."  Since when did "okay" all of a sudden turn into buying an entire series?  I rarely even buy books that are absolutely fabulous unless they have been so critical to my thoughts that I know I will want to refer to them again.  I also sometimes buy books based on what I want other people to read.  That's right, I'm more likely to stock my personal library for a guest (when I have a house that will accommodate guests) than I am for my own personal pleasure.

This probably has to do with the fact that once I've read a book, I own it.  It doesn't matter if I return it to the library or a friend, or drop it in the bath tub, or burn it, or sell it.  Once I've read a book, those ideas are mine to mull over and think about for as long as I want to do so.  The only thing the publishing industry does is provide me with what I hope are high quality ideas and stories, but if they don't start wowing me more often, I don't see the use of paying $5-8 for a paperback that I've already paid $.005 for in taxes.

I want more pure stories, free of anti-story poison.  And Rushdie is right, we are neglecting the old stories.  I am more than willing to retreat to those rather than read another crappy paranormal romance novel.  Dracula was a waaaaaay better vampire anyway.

An excellent review can be found at The Book Brothel, scandalous.

22 October 2010

Day 209: Consider the Lobster

"Authority and American Usage" in Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. ISBN: 9780316156110.

I love this essay for several reasons.  The first is the fact that Wallace is assigned to review a dictionary and usage guide.  This is something I'm somewhat familiar with doing.  I won't say I've had the experience or practice of a more seasoned librarian, but I'm pretty good at looking at a reference source and knowing what kind of library or person would find it useful, how they might use it, and the general bent or lean of the author or publishing organization.

It's true, even dictionaries have agendas.

The other thing I liked was Wallace reminding the reader that language is a tool.  This tool has a particular goal of communicating ideas, concepts, directions, emotions, etc. to other people.  However, it is also a tool for defining identity.  For instance, if I happened to speak French as a first language you would know I was from one of a handful of cultures and could possibly guess that I was from Canada or France given my pasty skin tone and Americanized manner of dress.  But it goes further than that: each language has its own dialect and even its own slang subsets.  Fifty year-old white men do not talk the same way that 15 year-old girls do, even if that 50 year-old happens to be the 15 year-old's father.

So what?
Well, I'm going to say something that kind of makes me want to die a little inside: As much as I don't like it, text talk has its uses as a language.  I hate it.  I hate what it has done to people's already poor spelling abilities.  I hate that I have picked up bad text habits simply because I read so much of it that it becomes incorporated into my internal spell checker/grammar guide.  I am really fucking tired of seeing people spell "indefinite" as "indefinate" (it's WRONG!) and spelling out etc. as "ectcetera."  There's not even a "c" in front of the "t" in the abbreviation, why are you doing that?
On the other hand, a large portion of the population now communicates via text message, Facebook, and Twitter.  These mediums are usually pretty limited character-wise, so the drooling-idiot butchering of a traditionally rich and wordy language makes sense.  Of course we need a shorthand under those circumstances in which to fully communicate ideas and intentions.  However, if you try to communicate in that language to someone who doesn't speak it, you are going to get stared at blankly.  Therefore, put down the cell phone and start composing lengthy letters to your grandmother, who will not only appreciate it, but may provide you with the benefit of a complete education in etiquette and what it was like growing up during World War II, then maybe you'll stop your bitching about your broken iPhone.
There, I've made concessions, go learn proper English.  I'll work on typing liek I dont no how 2 rite, fml, lolz.
I don't necessarily agree with this review, but I think it's well written, entertaining, and makes some good points.

21 October 2010

Day 208: Consider the Lobster

"Certainly the End of Something or Other" in Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. ISBN: 9780316156110. 

Wallace provides excellent analysis of one of Updike's characters after explaining why my generation and several before me dislike Updike's writing so much. Wallace states, “It never occurs to [Ben Turnbull of Toward the End of Time], that the reason he's so unhappy is that he's an asshole.”

Most of the people I've met who have had this affliction do not realize that they're assholes because they have some form of social dysfunction, whether through genetic misfortune or being locked up in a basement their entire lives (literally or figuratively), that prevents them from realizing they are being assholes.  This is where I think being more honest and forthright would come in handy. 

Generally when someone says or does something that makes them sound like a dick, everyone shrugs it off because we're all too damned polite to say anything about it. So really we only have ourselves to blame when the giant moose shows up at our next party and poops on the rug again. The big dumb moose doesn't know it's wrong, because he's a freakin' moose. I can see where you confused him as a civilized human being because all the fashionable moose are wearing human this season, but you still invited him to the party (or his date who was tasteless enough to date him in the first place and even more tasteless to actually bring him to your fancy No Mooses Pooping on the Rug Party).

It's not that we don't want him to be a moose, but there are certain expected behaviors when you are in the company of not-Moose. It is very reasonable to take the moose aside and calmly explain that pooping on the rug is unacceptable and if he does it again he can expect to be shunned until he is an old moose, after which he will die alone only to end up as a stuffed head in the ski lodge where he will be forced to watch the ski bunnies he so desired frolic with much more handsome and well-adjusted moose. 

There are of course also the people who don't have the excuse of being afflicted with social dysfunctions.  These are people who have somehow been told that they are incredibly amazing people who can never do any wrong.  They are usually physically attractive and/or rich and/or insanely smart, or at the very least have been treated as such for so long that it no longer matters if they are or were ever any of those above mentioned qualities. I'm not sure that there's really any help for these people for a number of reasons. Usually they have been told that they are (acting like) assholes, but because they are such big assholes they usually figure that someone is being oversensitive, or in terms an asshole is more likely to use, "a pussy." 

I've noticed that these people are often surrounded by their own kind (when they have friends at all) with the occasional unsuspecting decent person being attracted to the previously mentioned Smarts, Good Looks, or Money without realizing exactly how big an asshole they just attached themselves to.  If you need to know whether or not you're associating with one, take a good look at their friends.  If you can tell they're all assholes, you're dating an asshole.  If they have one or two asshole friends that they only grudgingly hang out with, you're probably okay.  If you can't tell, you might want to think about the last time someone said something about your behavior and how you responded to that information.

I don't necessarily agree with this review, but I think it's well written, entertaining, and makes some good points.

20 October 2010

Day 207: Consider the Lobster

"Big Red Son" in Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. ISBN: 9780316156110.

I have quite a few mixed feelings about porn. I think most women do, and really most people should. I don't necessarily think that there is anything wrong with the actual existence of pornography, but unless you make your own, there's no real way to ethically consume or watch porn. It is just to easy too objectify the men and women involved when they are engaged in an already fairly degrading act. You can argue all you want about how sex is a beautiful and wonderful thing when done with the right person and babies, blah, blah, miracle of life blah, but when it comes down to it, it's incredibly messy and not very dignified. Really the only reason to have sex with someone is because you trust them enough to see you at your least sexiest moment. Grunting, sweating, and flopping naked bits of flesh aren't actually all that sexy.

I won't say that porn is necessary to sate a male need to look at naked women. Because I don't think that's true, or at least not entirely. I think men have always masturbated to images of women, regardless of how much clothing they wear or how big of a penis they are currently involved with. The more graphic the images, the more titillating obviously, but somehow I doubt they produce any better of an orgasm than a lingerie catalog. Maybe some of my male readers can comment on this since my female brain is obviously wired a bit differently in the visual arousal department.

I certainly think that porn has become more degrading. I don't exactly seek it out, but as someone who uses the internet I occasionally stumble on it and am usually completely turned off.  This might have something to do with the fact that I am generally not turned on by large breasted women with their legs behind their head giving me an all too clear view of their bleached and waxed assholes. Don't get me wrong, I love women, I think they are sexy, I enjoy looking at naked women on a completely aesthetic level and can certainly see how they would arouse men.  I am not so keen on looking at the anus and I honestly don't get the appeal of doing so. Sure, okay, anal sex, woo, that can be sexy, but the anus itself? Really? That turns people on?

I think porn also sets a really unreasonable expectation of women. I'm talking specifically about mass produced porn that involves little to no script and absolutely no character development. Obviously this is porn produced mostly for straight, or presumably straight, men who just want to see their fantasies in action. If they can't be the plumber who stumbles on two college co-eds in the shower, at least he can watch the schmuck who does. Unfortunately I think this also leads to the ever hopeful male expectation of women just being constantly available. Maybe there is porn out there somewhere where a man actually asks a woman if she would like to have intercourse rather than the woman or women in the porn seeing someone with a penis and all of a sudden going into a sexual frenzy.

The women in these films are often downright abused physically. Even if they're willing (on whatever level) to do that to their bodies, it doesn't mean that producers, etc. should allow or be allowed to let them put themselves in that kind of danger.  Most hardcore pornography does not include the use of condoms or other safe sex methods, and even with regular STD testing (which at least is required by the industry) there are bound to be people who slip in and infect someone before the next test is scheduled, this does not even take into account the incubation periods for most STDs.

Not only this, but sex is hard on a body. It is by nature invasive, and for those of us who have been lucky enough to have very long and vigorous sessions, the aftermath is not so pleasant. Imagine having it be your job to be that sore and torn and friction blistered? It's not only uncomfortable, but puts added stress on your body in a way that more normal occurrences of sex do not.

Despite all of this, I don't think people should stop purchasing or even making porn, but I do think they should be a little bit more mindful about the conditions these people probably go through for their job. Most are well paid, but you can only really last so long in an industry that is that rough on your physical and mental health.

I don't necessarily agree with this review, but I think it's well written, entertaining, and makes some good points.

19 October 2010

Day 206: Role Models

Role Models by John Waters.  ISBN: 9780374251475.

I appreciate Waters's inclusion of literary role models, both those who write and those present as characters in the books.  Of course, Waters seems to take the stand that role models should also be people you do not wish to model yourself after, so some of his choices make more sense than they would otherwise.

Off the top of my head I can only remember a few people in books that I felt were influential enough to become role models.  Roald Dahl's Matilda was probably one of them.  I liked the idea of being so smart that your brain compensates for boredom by giving you the power to move objects with your mind.  I also identified somewhat with her family situation and admired her ability and willingness to leave her family behind.  It's strange that someone who was rumored to hate children so much put the needs of this particular child over the supposed dignity of her parents in this particular story.  Perhaps Dahl had very specific definitions of what he thought a child should be and hated anything outside of that (and children are very good at being outside of definition).

Matilda's influence lasted a pretty long time.  I read voraciously and sometimes willingly went to detention so I could either read without the distraction of stray balls, dust, or screaming during recess or to finish my homework early so I could read from the end of school all the way till bedtime.  When I got a little older and read Parable of the Sower at age 14, Laura Olamina just blew me away.  Everything she said made sense.  Of course we should prepare for the worst and learn as many new skills and as much information as possible.  The worst thing that could happen is that you don't use it, but if you need it, you have it!  Plus her appreciation of every member of her community felt very right to me.  Different people bring different skills and problem solving abilities and can make contributions by sharing and using that knowledge.

I think I also liked most of Anne McCaffrey's heroines as well.  I believe I started reading her novels around the same time I picked up sci-fi books.  I didn't really much identify with the male characters for some reason, despite not feeling quite "feminine" either.  Boy characters seemed to have a little more freedom and swagger than I felt I had at the time.  I don't feel that I was limited by anyone, but I definitely think I did not receive the encouragement my brother received, and I certainly did not have the benefit of the "Boys will be Boys" treatment.  You can bet I got in more trouble for doing things my brother did just because they weren't "ladylike."

Oh! Valentine from Ender's Game was an amazing character that I very much identified with.  I mean, not only did she have a somewhat cruel and manipulative brother, but she also had one who was a freakin' hero and could do no wrong in her parents' eyes.  How is that NOT my brother separated into two people?  Plus she was an amazing political writer, and at the time I very, very much wanted to be a writer.  I think there's some small part of me that still does, but I realize how small the chances of being successful at that are.  I do think if I had the ability to dedicate all my time to writing (more so than now even) I would actually be able to produce something worth reading; this is a huge change even from when I was 14 where I wanted to be a writer, but had no idea how to actually do that.

My review can be found on Goodreads.  If I used a rating system on this blog, it would receive two pancakes and a waffle, the term waffle having a double meaning.  Mmmm waffles.

18 October 2010

Day 205: Role Models

Role Models by John Waters.  ISBN: 9780374251475.

In the chapter where Waters meets Little Richard he closes by asking, "Are there some role models you should never meet?"  For me, I would say that you shouldn't select a role model without meeting them.  Of course, I didn't have very many options to choose from growing up.  There weren't a whole lot of characters like me on television, the closest probably being Clarissa from the Nick show Clarissa Explains It All and she was a good eight years older than me.  Certainly by the time I was a teenager I was being told by television that I was too fat to be anything other than an ugly but kindhearted sidekick at best (the one that knows the boy isn't good for her friend but is ignored because she's supposedly "jealous," etc.).

There definitely weren't many "real" people I remember looking up to.  I watched the news only when I was waiting for my mom or dad to relinquish control of the TV after watching their news program (usually 60 Minutes).  There were a number of people in my life that I did look up to, but it was much easier to see that they were people and inherently flawed like the rest of us.  In some ways, that made it easier to shoot for a successful, if unglamorous, life because I was surrounded by regular people who had already obtained the things I more or less aspired to, in a way that I found reasonable.  And really all I wanted and still want is a decent job that I enjoy at least most of the time, a place of my own (regardless of whether I hold the deed), a reasonably nice car, and friends and family to spend time with.

Today most of my role models include fairly regular people who have done pretty well for themselves.  These are normal, well-adjusted adults and all people who I have or have had at least an acquaintance with.  They are people I respect and admire, not only for their accomplishments, but for the way they look at life and treat other people.  I want to talk about two of them here, not because they are better than any of the other role models in my life, but because they are the two I have been thinking about recently.  Both happen to be librarians, well, one was a librarian anyway.

The first is Joe Cali, who would have celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday had he not passed in February of 2007.  Joe was definitely a librarian's librarian.  He died on his feet working, which is probably the way he planned to go anyway.  He did an incredible job of building Antioch College's serials collection, and for that reason it is still one of the most heavily borrowed-from libraries in Ohiolink if one takes into account the size of the library and the collection itself.  He may have been a bit curmudgeonly at first glance, but he always had a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step.  I always tried to stay ahead of him, which sometimes got me in trouble as one of his favorite sayings was, "Never take initiative," the idea being if you took initiative without knowing what you were doing you would probably mess things up and create even more work for yourself or (worse) someone else.  It's probably why I'm so obnoxious about asking questions or reading and rereading instructions before I start doing something.  I can still hear his voice and the jangle of keys as he comes by to spout the usual line of Joe-isms.  Another favorite being, "Don't fall down," good advice if I ever heard it.

The second, and most recent addition, to my roll call of role models is...Nancy Pearl.  This may seem like an obvious and somewhat typical selection, but honestly it wasn't until I actually met her that I really wanted to be more like her.  I mean, yeah, who doesn't want to be an action figure?  But I admire her more for her work as an advocate of reading and readers' advisory and being just an all around nice person than I do for a piece of plastic that was modeled after her.  I mean, how many celebrities do you know that would A) let you take your picture with them B) let you hug them after the picture was taken and after asking nicely C) at a later event was just as excited as you to actually see the picture, sign it, and even more excited to receive a copy of it with this big nobody.  Granted, she is not exactly a big deal outside of the library world, but I imagine she gets stopped on the street frequently enough by other nutty librarians (which is pretty much all of us) to probably get tired of it, and yet she is extremely enthusiastic and kind and wonderful.  It sort of makes me want to be the next Nancy Pearl, if only to make other young librarians thrilled to be associated with such wonderful people.

My review can be found on Goodreads.  If I used a rating system on this blog, it would receive two pancakes and a waffle, the term waffle having a double meaning.  Mmmm waffles.

17 October 2010

Day 204: Kane and Abel

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer.  ISBN: 9780671251215.

While in Europe, one of the characters decides he's just going to get married.  Right there.  It's great, because there are days when I want to get married just like that.  Just drag my fiance into a courthouse, get our marriage license, hop over to a UU church and have the certificate signed, and just be done with it.
I would still probably throw a fancy dress party for all our friends and family, and we would probably even have a brief ceremony where we exchange vows, but the longer I have to wait to actually get married with what seems like little progress toward that goal (since neither of us are particularly financially stable), the more I want to have that quicky wedding.
This is a common exchange between Danny and me.
"Wanna get married?"
"Okay, let's do it tomorrow."
"Wait, what, no."
I half hope that one day he will just say yes and instead of asking him, "Why am I marrying you again?" I can use the past-tense.  There's part of me that thinks marriage should be just spontaneous and wonderful as falling in love, and planning a wedding kind of goes completely against that.  I wonder if anyone out there has done research to show how many couples break up because of issues surrounding the planning.  It would not surprise me if it was higher than 8%.

Then again, while falling in love is spontaneous, staying in love is definitely not.  My relationship with Danny takes a lot of work.  In some ways we are such different people that we occasionally completely misjudge each other and one or both of us gets pissed off.  So in that sense being in love does require planning and work.

I just feel frustrated that not only can I not proceed with my professional life until something happens, but my personal life is also in a kind of standstill.  It's not exactly that things would change between Danny and me if we were married, but I'm annoyed that there's anything blocking us from getting married even if it's our own sense of responsibility.  So part of the thrill I would get from the Courthouse marriage would be saying, "Forget it, I don't care if I behave irresponsibly for this Most Important Decision, I'm getting married today regardless of what happens."  Unfortunately I have no way of making this happen as Danny will never agree to it, and really it's just not a good idea anyway, but it's one of those thoughts that keeps me happy.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

16 October 2010

Day 203: Kane and Abel

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer.  ISBN: 9780671251215.

Oh no, I've found another series I have to read.  At least I'll be finished with His Dark Materials relatively soon.  I was surprised by how much I liked this one; I went in expecting to drop it after 50-80 pages.  Instead I found that I just really liked the writing style, and sometimes that's all I need to like in a book to make me keep reading it.  I mean, I didn't even really care all that much what happened to the characters after they hit their mid-30's because at that point they were both established big shots and I was kinda, meh, but my brain was all, "Wooooo, this guy knows how to write books!"

So, are there any books out there that you were kind of lackluster about as far as topic or plot, but just really enjoyed the writing enough so that you finished it?  Especially if it's Kane and Abel size (540 pages)?

Basically this is the opposite of Twilight, um, in some obvious ways, but what I mean is that Twilight has a really compelling plot that makes you want to read it, even if it is complete drivel and poorly written, whereas Kane and Abel had kind of a mediocre plot, but really, really good writing.  And honestly, I think part of the reason this didn't appeal to me as much is that it was written 40 years ago and probably hasn't aged as well as it could have.

I understand that this post is more review-ish than I typically like, but part of living a life through books is your experiences with them, and I can't deny that this was like having a brief affair with someone I probably would never touch except I'm on vacation and no one will ever know I slept with the bellboy.  These are the kind of books that I specifically hope to find when I read out of genre, meaning when I stray from books I would normally be interested to those I am usually not interested in.  I would place this mostly in literary fiction, but it has a bit of the political thriller with what I like to call a Moneybags twist as it involves two very wealthy individuals.

I usually have very poor experiences reading outside of genre, but I never know when my tastes are going to change.  I don't seem to be as drawn to fantasy and sci-fi as I was in my teenage years; although that used to be what I read almost exclusively at that time.  Lately however, those genres have become a bit too formulaic for my tastes and with the overpopulation of paranormal in the mix I've seen a definite decline in the quality of science-driven or even space-driven sci-fi.  It kind of saddens me that my reading tastes have moved away from sci-fi, because it really was one of my first loves of reading and probably when I first started reading independently.  Although, slightly embarrassingly, I got started by reading Star Wars novels (I still recommend A.C. Crispin's Han Solo Trilogy...which I actually need to reread so I can finish the last book which I left on a plane when on my way back from Guam when I was 13...or maybe it was the trip to Hawaii). 

These days I tend to read more non-fiction.  I do not read a whole lot of non-fiction, but I find myself missing the opportunity to learn new things now that I'm out of school and I have been extremely pleased with the advent of Readable Non-fiction.  I think publishers and editors have finally realized in the last 20 years that scholars are not the only ones interested in information that can be found in books, and if they only made the information more accessible they might actually be able to sell a few more books.  These books also tend to be written by people who are professor-style quirky without the shut-in nerd social skills.

And YA books: I'm going to sound old and cranky, but kids these days don't realize how lucky they have it.  There are tons of books that are written just for them, and most of them are good.  When I was growing up most of the youg adult-ish books were basically animal books or coming of age stories (mostly involving boys).  It's like they wanted to skirt the issue of hormones and puberty altogether so they gave us stories about A Boy and His Dog or A Boy and His Adventure Through the Mountains...or I could read Nancy Drew, which did not appeal at all given my distaste for mysteries.  I am not that old, people, we are talking about 10 years ago and now you can read YA on any conceivable topic and quite a few inconceivable ones.  Chocolate War was probably the most real YA targeted book I read during my teen years and I was hard pressed to find anything even close to that in my pathetic high school library.

I couldn't even really tell you what my reading focuses on nowadays.  I think given this project I have made myself expand my reading tastes so I don't get bored.  I think at some point I'm going to have to take a month and dedicate that as "Browsing Month" where I go to the library and browse for my reads rather than working off of my massive reading list.  At the very least it would be interesting to see if my selections would now be as broad as my current method of book selection, or if I would go back to old standbys.

If I did this, what month do you think would be best?  Would you be interested in taking a peek into my reading habits? 

My review can be found on Goodreads.

15 October 2010

Day 202: The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.  ISBN: 9780375846724.

In the first book, Lyra learned not to trust adults, even those who should have protected her.  In the second book, Lyra finds out that even people her own age can be harmful.  I think most people learn this lesson in reverse, but they're both difficult lessons in their own way.  It's a terrible thing to learn that anyone would want harm to come to you, or even simply let it happen, but human nature almost seems to require harm in one form or another.  It's why the people who are willing to protect us are so special.

I really do admire the bravery that is required in publishing and writing something like this.  It is not a popular idea that adults are unreliable and may harm children.  It is especially unpopular that children are capable of hurting each other (sometimes fatally); just look at the books that tend to be banned or cause outrage: Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War, and many others.  We may not like it, but children do hurt each other.  They are capable of atrocities, and this is terrifying because children aren't supposed to behave that way.  But maybe they see so much cruelty in their own lives that they are influenced by it and feel that it is normal.

I've certainly seen a lot of indifference in my life regarding cruelty by children to other children.  My father happens to be an unreasonably sarcastic and bitter person.  Rather than protecting me from my brother, there were days when he encouraged my brother to hit me, and when I didn't fight back my father proceeded to call me names and encourage to return blows.  These were probably lessons I could have done without, at least from my own family, but they did make me more prepared to deal with the world around me.  I would prefer not to need those lessons, but that would require more change in human nature than the species has made in the last 400+ years.

I hope that things change, but the only thing I can do is to try to be a little kinder and ask others to do the same, and if you have the chance to apologize to someone from the past that you may have tormented, please do so.  It's not the easiest thing to do, for either party, but it is the right thing, and as someone who had a hard time, it would mean a lot to me to have those people tell me they regretted treating me the way they did.

To anyone I may have harmed in the past, I am sorry.  I sometimes get distracted from being the person I want to be by the situations I've had to face.  It isn't fair to you, but I have always regretted treating people poorly.

A good review can be found at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, which is not the "list of hot underwear model lineups in a fight to the death" that it sounds like.

14 October 2010

Day 201: The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.  ISBN: 9780375846724.

"Can you imagine my astonishment, in turn, at learning that part of my own nature was female, and bird-formed, and beautiful?"  Page 213-14.

I like the idea of having a soul or consciousness or conscience manifest as an animal.  I'm sure I'm not alone in talking with friends about what animals we would be.  I love even more the idea of being able to talk, out loud, to the manifestation.  How many of us talk to ourselves or go around and around in our heads when we're dealing with a particularly difficult problem?  It would be so much easier to have an actual dialog and agreement with something outside of yourself.  It would certainly give people a lot more confidence in their final decisions and how they conduct their daily lives.  Plus, having a constant companion, even if that companion is a part of yourself, would make life much more enjoyable.

What kind of animal do I think I would have for a daemon?  I'm not sure that's a question I can actually answer for myself, not honestly anyway.  I would want my daemon to be something grand and elegant, which is probably not the reality.  If I had to guess anyway, I would probably go with a ferret.  I do not particularly like ferrets.  Unless you have copious amounts of time and a high tolerance for bad smells and deviltry I don't think they make very good pets.  But they do seem to have characteristics that I share (not that bad smells...most days).

They are extremely clever.  I would not say that they are smart, because I don't think that they are, but they are definitely problem solvers and that's something I can very much identify with.  They have moments of hyper, frantic activity, followed by long periods of sleeping and leisure.  I have an extremely short attention span and need to be able to switch from activity to activity in order to really be stimulated.  I sometimes need to distract myself from one project with another in order to finish either of them.  I have hoarder tendencies, which I control by adding books to my list on Goodreads and borrowing library books rather than buying, among other methods.  I also have a bit of a mean streak which tends to show itself as mischievousness more than outright malevolence.

Perhaps someone else has a better idea of what animal spirit I really have.  I'd be interested to see what my readers think, considering you are the people who probably know me best.

A good review can be found at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, which is not the "list of hot underwear model lineups in a fight to the death" that it sounds like.

13 October 2010

Day 200: Another Special Story

It's that time again people.  Happy 200th post (well, regular post, because Banned Book Week was special).  Oh my god, I'm sorry this is so long, I got carried away.  For those of you who missed the first Rupert story, click here.  However, they don't really follow a linear time continuum, so feel free to skip it or read it later.
Rupert the Magical Pony Meets a Spacemonaut

Once upon a time, there was a magical pony field, and in the magical pony field lived the magical ponies.  One of the magical ponies was named Rupert, and he was a magical pony.  Rupert was happily playing in the magical pony field, because that is what magical ponies most often do.  All of a sudden, Rupert heard a biiiiig crash somewhere that was not far away, but not close by either.  So Rupert looked around and started heading towards the smoke, which he figured was where whatever crashed had crashed.

So Rupert walked, and he walked, and he trotted a little because he's a magical pony, and then he walked some more until he finally came to the smoking remains of a biiiiiiig rocket ship. Rupert was pretty impressed, because this was the biggest rocket he had ever seen, and being a magical pony, he had seen quite a few big rockets.  Rupert approached the rocket ship warily, because that's how you should approach a rocket ship that falls from the sky and lands in a magical pony field.

As the smoke cleared, Rupert was able to see better, and he saw that the big rocket ship had broken in half!  There were even some small fires, but they were starting to burn out, so Rupert figured it was safe, because if the big rocket ship hadn't exploded yet, it probably wouldn't at all.  Just as Rupert was about to poke his head inside of the big rocket ship, he heard a terrible moaning sound behind him!  He quickly turned around and saw a large mass of something that was dressed in a big white puffy suit and what looked like a giant tinted fishbowl.  The Puffy-Suit-Fishbowl thing rose to its feet, with a lot more moaning, and Rupert the magical pony trembled, because the Puffy-Suit-Fishbowl thing was much, much bigger than he was and magical ponies are not known for their bravery.

The Puffy-Suit-Fishbowl thing stumbled towards Rupert and wheezed and coughed and cleared its throat, "Comrade, would you mind helping me out of my space suit, it seems that my helmet has fused to the neck, and I am somewhat indisposed."

Rupert approached the Puffy-Suit-Fishbowl thing cautiously and after not being attacked immediately, figured it was probably friendly and so proceeded to help.  He tugged on the helmet and pulled at the zipper and tore at the strange puffy fabric on the suit until finally the suit was off.

Rupert stared at the thing before him and said, "What the hell are you?"

Magical ponies don't normally say words like hell, but this was a special case, because this was a thing that Rupert had never seen before.  It was at least three hands taller than Rupert and it had weird horns on the top of its head and looked somewhat like a very shaggy cow and it smelled bad.

The thing said to Rupert, "Greetings tiny pony comrade, I am Yegor the Astro-Yak and I am a Spacemonaut for the glorious planet of Jakovskiya Naciet Bol'shiovska.  And you my tiny friend, what is your name?"

Rupert's tiny magical pony brain tried to process all the strange sounding information that Yegor the Astro-Yak gave him and a moment later responded to his question, "Hello, I am Rupert the magical pony, and I am a magical pony from this magical pony field.  It's nice to meet you Yegor the Astro-Yak Spacemonaut from...from that planet you said."

Yegor the Astro-Yak made a deep Astro-Yak belly laugh, "Well said my tiny magical pony friend.  It is an honor to meet you, I should like very much to explore your magical pony field, but for the time being I must find a reward for you, my new pony friend, for helping me out of my space suit."

Rupert was overjoyed to hear this, because there is nothing that magical ponies like more than presents, especially when they've earned them.  So Rupert bounced around while Yegor the Astro-Yak busily picked through the rubble of his big rocket ship.  Finally, after much grunting and what sounded like it might be cursing, Yegor must have found what he was looking for, for he shouted with joy.

"Aha!  Rejoice my magical pony friend Rupert, for I have found you a gift that is most suited to your magical pony nature, and we shall share it and rejoice together!"

Rupert the magical pony wasn't so sure about the sharing, as he did not see how sharing made it a gift or a reward, but since it was something from space and the glorious planet of...something or other he was willing to let it slip this one time.  Yegor the Astro-Yak shuffled over to where Rupert the magical pony had been waiting and set down a laaaaarge jug of a clear liquid and two fairly large glasses.

After the glasses had been poured Yegor lifted his glass and said, "It is now traditional to sing a song of friendship and in praise of the great and wonderful planet of Jakovskiya Naciet Bol'shiovska before we take our first drink.  I shall translate for you, my magical pony friend Rupert, so that you may hear the words that shall warm our hearts as this Vodishaka Pozhara will warm them.  And so the Astro-Yak Spacemonaut sang in a deep and rumbly voice:
Great is the glory of the Astro-Yaks,
Mighty kingdom of the hairy beasts.
Large and pendulous are our sacks*
That bring our women to their knees.

Life on other planets do we seek
Fly from home to here in weeks.
Spacemonauts brave and strong,
Sing to you our friendship song.

I lift my glass to our new friend
To the glory of the common bond.
May our friendship never end, 
And spread here and far beyond.

As the song ended, Rupert lifted his glass, with a tear in his eye, and drank the clear liquid after clinking his glass with Yegor's.  Both quadrupeds belched loudly after finishing, and Yegor the Astro-Yak laughed one of his deep Astro-Yak laughs.

Suddenly, Rupert the magical pony did not feel so magical.  However, he turned several magical colors including purple, puce, pale lilac, and putreen, which is a sort of putrid green seen only in vomit and bridesmaid dresses.  Yegor the Astro-Yak, being an Astro-Yak and not a magical pony, thought this was normal and was very impressed with the display, until Rupert the magical pony began to spew forth steaming red sludge which might have once been recognized as internal organs had they not been destroyed by Astro-Yak strength Vodishaka Pozhara.

Yegor the Astro-Yak was saddened to lose his new friend, however, since he was on a scientific mission anyway, he proceeded to take samples from what was left of Rupert the magical pony, then he Yak-taped his big rocket ship back together and went home to the glorious planet of Jakovskiya Naciet Bol'shiovska where he told everyone about the planet of magical ponies and was lauded as a hero and surrounded by big-uddered Astro-Yak women.

The End 
*This is an absolutely hilarious drawing that I wanted people to have access to, but did not anyone getting in trouble for having up on their screen.  Make sure there are no childrens, bosses, or prudes around before clicking.  Thanks to Dayna Ingram (guest blogger) and her friend Evan for contributing these.  Evan drew the Yegor.
**I write these stories to poke fun of everything children's stories stand for, which sometimes includes the stereotyping of certain people into boiled down "flavors" of culture that lose all real meaning of what that culture is actually about.  I like to consider "Rupert stories," as I've come to call them, as a kind of Cautionary Tales for Adults, much in the tradition of original fairy tales which often involved gruesome ends for dimwitted, lazy, or selfish children.  I hope you enjoy them, and really I try to exaggerate the stereotype as much as possible to make it what it is: ridiculous.  You cannot possibly boil down an entire culture to be easily understood or have one person, figure, or yak be truly representative of a people.

12 October 2010

Day 199: Adaptations

"Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss in Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen.*
ISBN: 97814000053148.

One of the major reasons I've never really wanted a child is that I can't see myself loving something the way that most people seem to love their children.  It's like they sort of lose all reason when it comes down to this one (or more) person(s) in their life and nothing you can say or do will make them behave rationally.  I just don't see myself loving in that way, and I don't know if I'm more afraid of not being able to or of turning into one of those people.

I'm not at all suggesting that it is a bad thing to love your child so much.  I just don't know that it's for me.  I even like children somewhat, as a concept.  I like what they represent and the way they tend to look at the world with these very plastic and fluid brains that haven't quite figured out the concept of "wrong" or "inconceivable" yet.  They can and do imagine everything, which is why I think they're so amazing, but I would never, ever want to have one, because oh god the terrible things I might do to something so precious.

But what if I could have a make-believe child?  A robot child that I could love and who could love me, and whose brain I could just wipe clean whenever it got too "old" mentally?  Would I actually be able to feel love for an android child?  I don't think I could, and I don't think that anyone else could either.  It has nothing to do with the "not of my body" issue, although I imagine there are foster and adoptive parents who struggle to learn to love their adopted children (and probably love them all the more for those difficulties).

I think it has more to do with the fact that even though we know how children are made (unless you've undergone abstinence only programs), we don't really know how they are made.  There is a degree of randomness in it, the thrill of the unknown and the unpredictable, not only in creating the child, but in raising him or her.  I think this would be nearly impossible to program into an android child, because even with artificial intelligence, it will still act like a robot and there are things that a robot simply cannot do.

A robot does not need to be cared for in the middle of the night because of fevers or chicken pox or bad dreams.  A robot does not need to have scraped knees kissed or small cuts bandaged just to make him or her feel better.  Granted I'm sure they would have their own mechanical problems that equated to illness or bodily damage, and you could probably even program the android child to have bad dream responses.  But why would anyone in their right minds want their children to have nightmares?  Or diseases?  Or broken bones?  Or hurt feelings?  Yet these are the very things that make them our children, not necessarily the things themselves, but in how we tend to them, care for them, and teach our children to endure them and become better people.  With an android it would just feel like I was teaching the program how to beat me in chess, in the sense that I would be teaching it how to be a better human than I am, which completely defeats the purpose of being human.

We are designed to make mistakes.  And somehow I don't think that designing mistakes into an A.I. would solve the problem, the artifice just produces more artifice.  We love our children so insanely because they are so completely unpredictable.  We can "program" them any way we want to, but they still have their own directives and will follow them passionately in the face of all obstacles.  So while I can love (or hate) my car in the way that I can love any object, there is something particularly beautiful and untouchable in the way that people love children.  It is so vastly different from the way that we love other people or our animals.

It's as if that mixture of the bits of yourself and your partner and your respective relatives and all of the lessons you've taught the child still cannot account for the unknown element that the child carries within him- or herself. And I think it's that unknown element that we really love, because it's the one thing we know we can't grasp or influence and we revel in that.  We live in the joy that is that child's own, unique, and absolutely amazing ability to completely rip our hearts to pieces, and somehow make them bigger and better and more full of love than ever.  I would hate to see that kind of love wasted on a 1967 Corvette, no matter how beautiful it is.

*Film adaptation is A.I. Artificial Intelligence

11 October 2010

Day 198: The Countess

The Countess by Rebecca Johns.  ISBN: 9780307588456 (ARC - published Oct. 12, 2010).

Breast feeding is such a charged topic these days, what with people upset by the idea of exposed boobies.  Somehow they are not offended by the dozens, if not hundreds, of nearly exposed boobies they see on TV, walking past clothing stores, on billboards, and on young women (thanks Seventeen Magazine for being sleazy enough to prove my point and in such a season-appropriate manner, too).  I hardly think that breast feeding in public is any more offensive than offering up literal mounds of flesh for sale, because really, these companies aren't selling you a product, they're selling breasts because that's what you're buying.

Oh sure, yeah, okay, you bought the top because it looked cute on the really busty model, but you were hoping it would make your boobs look that good.  Oh yeah, you bought the beer because you wanted to drink watery piss, not because of the hot girl with the low cut top you wish you could get.

But there are historical issues surrounding breast feeding as well, ones that might make you pause and think about why it's such an uncomfortable topic to begin with.  For the most part, it has to deal with ownership issues.  We think it's weird now to give our children to other women to breast feed, that there's something "wrong" and "dirty" about the idea of letting another woman breast feed your child.  But that's just the thing, you're not thinking about the child's nutritional needs when you get squicked by the idea of someone else's breast in your infant's mouth, instead you're thinking, "That's MY baby and it is WRONG for someone else to feed that child."

So, noble women pretty much never breast fed their own children.  It was seen as degrading for them to engage in activities synonymous with that of farmyard animals.  Just because they were treated much like broodmares didn't mean they had to actually feed their children like them..  But breast feeding a child is in some ways a way to claim ownership of a child, and that is something that the men of the time could not allow women to do.  Women did not own their children, they belonged to the marriage, and the marriage was a business contract that mainly benefited the husband.  Women who remarried before their children were grown frequently lost the right to raise their own children.  So by setting up a social situation in which it was seen as dirty and base to breast feed your own child, men took away one of the very few powerful acts women had during that time: influence over potential heirs.

Here's another thing: breast feeding acts as a rudimentary form of birth control.  Women who breast feed are not as likely to get pregnant right away.  So of course if you don't allow your wife to begin breast feeding to start with you can jump right back on her and start (hopefully) producing Heir McWorthington number 2.

It's "interesting" how something that takes control out of women's hands regarding their own bodies is seen as a sign of prestige and wealth.  Sort of how they've spun wearing skimpy, yet outrageously priced clothing as empowering and taking self control when really it's just more of the same.  Since when does wearing almost nothing help women do anything that resembles being empowered?  I don't see Danica Patrick* driving around in a racing suit with strategically missing portions from the midriff, chest, and legs.  You know why?  Because you can't do shit in a string bikini for fear that it will fall off, which I'm pretty sure is the entire reason they were designed to begin with.

So sure, breasts are great, they're sexy, but there's more to it than that.  They serve a very necessary function in providing the best and most nutritious source of food for our children.  If anyone should own them, it should be the women who have to care for them (both the boobs and the sprogs), and I'd rather see a child's head tucked under a nursing blanket in a restaurant than have to listen to that same child screaming its head off just because someone has overly sexualized and fetishized female anatomy is offended by someone else feeding her child.

*Not exactly immune to the self-loathing, given her involvement with the absolutely disgusting Go-Daddy commercials.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

10 October 2010

Day 197: The Countess

The Countess by Rebecca Johns.  ISBN: 9780307588456 (ARC - published Oct. 12, 2010).

After her husband dies, Countess Bathory pursues her husband's friend, Thurzo, with the hopes of remarrying and securing her position for the sake of herself and her young son.  Thurzo is not a physically attractive man, but Bathory comes to find him attractive in other ways.

I get this.  My fiance is not what most people would call an attractive man.  He's got this big head, if we were in another era he would be wearing Professor Farnsworth glasses, and his lack of hair would be astonishing if it were not for the over abundance of forehead which makes up for it.  No one would mistake him for being handsome, although you would not necessarily run from the room screaming either.

He makes up for it.  He's not rich, or successful, or cultured, but he has a sweetness and a sincerity that people who know they're attractive tend to lack.  Danny is open and warm with me in a way that my more attractive lovers have not been.  It's as if without the dignity that comes with beauty, we can truly be ourselves, we can be as ugly as we want with each other, but more often we are tender and loving.  He knows when I show him affection that it is more than genuine, that I love him despite how he looks and all his flaws.  And I find comfort knowing that he realizes exactly how lucky he is to be loved by me, rather than just being one in a long string of girls who have fawned over him.

I've even come to like the way he looks.  He is by no means pretty, but there is something satisfying and wonderful in looking at him and seeing his particular brand of unattractiveness. He almost does become handsome after awhile.  Everyone else may still see a frog, but I've started to see, if not quite a prince, my groom.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
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