30 November 2010

Day 248: The Stupidest Angel

The Stupidest Angel: A Heart Warming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore.  ISBN: 9780060590253.

Another thing I think Christopher Moore gets right about the holiday season in the idea of Christmas amnesty. The idea behind it is that no matter how lax you've been with your correspondence, no matter how mad you are at someone for that stupid thing they did, if a person you once knew well shows up with a gift and says “Merry Christmas,” you ought to forgive them and continue the relationship more or less where it left off. I like this idea, because I'm somewhat of a social bonehead, and I think a little more forgiveness in everyone's life would be a good thing.

I don't think this rule applies to really stupid things like abuse, etc., but we all have busy lives and forgetting to call someone for a month isn't really that big of a sin when it's only a social call anyway, right? I would much rather pretend like that didn't happen than to lose a friendship. It might even be a great way to renew friendships you didn't even know were broken... assuming the offended party was willing to let go whatever it was that was bothering them so much they couldn't tell you about it.

Wouldn't that just make your holiday? To just let go of whatever petty anger there is about something that probably wasn't a big deal anyway? Wouldn't that fill your heart with Christmas joy to be able to renew your friendship with Mary Beth from across the street, even after she called your husband a lazy good for nothing because he didn't mow the lawn for a week when he had a gout flareup. Admit it, you missed your daily coffee/tea BS session, and maybe she had a point about your husband anyway.

I, myself, have almost no trouble forgiving people, especially after time has passed. I just don't have the memory for holding a grudge; I'd rather use that brain space for literature and search techniques for digital databases. There are some exceptions when self-preservation is involved, but those are pretty rare and in most cases being friends with someone who is slightly less than totally trustworthy and/or polite leads to only minor problems. Make someone's holiday, extend a little forgiveness.

That guy who cut you off this morning? Cut him a little slack, maybe he honestly didn't see you, or he was really concerned about getting to work because he needs to make extra money to buy his kid an inhaler. That lady with a screaming kid in the restaurant booth behind you? I highly doubt she really wants to have the kid along either, but maybe her babysitter decided to go smoke pot with friends instead of being a responsible adult. That babysitter who canceled on you and left you with a screaming kid? First off, don't hire her again, secondly please avoid taking your screaming baby out after 7:30, and finally, kids grow up too fast these days anyway. Forgive the kid for wanting to hold off adulthood just a little bit longer instead of choosing to take care of your child.

Breathe deep everyone. It's not quite December yet and the holidays are far from over. Let's try to remember that we're all human, and sometimes we are selfish bastards; let's not make it any easier to be selfish bastards by behaving like such more so than usual.

If you want to blow off some Christmas steam, might I suggest a couple of thematically appropriate horror movies? Santa's Slay and Gingerdead Man are delightfully irreverent.  Also, give The Stupidest Angel a read if you haven't already.

A beatifully short and well done review can be found at Un:bound.

29 November 2010

Day 247: The Stupidest Angel

The Stupidest Angel: A Heart Warming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore.  ISBN: 9780060590253.

Ah Christopher Moore, my go-to guy. You have to be one of the few authors on earth to actually get me to read a “Holiday Novel”, with capitalizations and everything. And with opening lines like the following, is it any wonder?

“Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe.”

You, sir, sum up my Christmas cheer most accurately. I dread Christmas in the way that some people dread public speaking events, sharks, or tap dancing spiders. I hate the not so subtle creep of red and green into supermarkets and other commercial properties. People who start the holiday season cheerful slowly seem to warp into demented bargain fiends in an attempt to provide their loved ones with more for less. Meanwhile I'm over here just trying to get on with my daily life without being murdered for taking interest in a half-priced DVD or can of mushroom soup. I am convinced that red and green together are colors that purposefully drive the human brain to madness, and paired with the word “Bargain,” they add murderous tendencies to the mix.

Having said that, I don't really do Christmas. I'm more likely to buy someone something that they said they've needed, when they need it. Instead of waiting for December, if I know I can get them something nice that they will like or use, I will purchase it, hand it to them, and say “Merry Christmas” regardless of whether there's snow on the ground or it's a 90 degree day in July. I feel that this is actually more in line with the Christmas spirit, and often more appreciated as it is both a surprise and something helpful.

I am also lousy at keeping surprises from people.

When I get someone a nice gift, I want to give it to them immediately. The idea of withholding a present until a certain day seems a bit cruel to both parties involved. It means I have to wait anxiously to see if the person I bought or made it for actually likes it, and if they don't I've gotten both of our expectations up and we've frothed ourselves into an excitement for an incredible disappointment. If they do like it, they have to wait that much longer to enjoy it rather than being able to use it right away.

My fiancé is convinced that I just need to learn a little patience. That's really only part of the problem though. I really do believe in giving gifts to people when they need them and not because it's a certain time of the year. I'm not saying we should get rid of Christmas, because it is nice to have an excuse to get together with friends and family and drink some hot cider and listen to Christmas music, assuming the hidden messages in said music haven't driven us to kill previously mentioned friends and family. But I don't think we need to exchange lavish gifts with each other on December 25th in order to express our love and appreciation of each other. I would much rather have someone buy me an oil change in October because they know I need it then and give me a pack of socks on Christmas, than to have them buy me a flat screen TV on Christmas and leave me to fend for myself in a time of need.

On the other hand... I'm getting an eReader this year, which is not only something I want, but also related to my professional development (cough), so I can't really complain about the whole “lavish gift” thing either. Stupid waiting.

A beautifully short and well done review can be found at Un:bound.

28 November 2010

Day 246: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. ISBN: 9780545128285.

So there's two more days left to NaNoWriMo for most people, and I think now would be a good time to tell you what I've been up to.  For the past 9 days: nothing.  I finished NaNoWriMo on the 19th.  These are the things you can do when you don't have a job, classes, or a family.  Why am I writing about this for The Tale of Beedle the Bard?  Well... the purpose of Rowling's stories and what I was writing for NaNoWriMo are somewhat similar.  I think I'll let you infer where Rowling is concerned, because I like to think my audience is full of fairly intelligent people.

So I decided to do NaNoWriMo maybe five days before it actually started.  I knew there was no possible way I could come up with a coherent idea that I could write 50,000 words about in thirty days without it needing far more editing than I would want to put into it.  The novel from 6 years ago is still sitting around on my hard drive somewhere, and I haven't touched it since November 30, 2004.  And after that long I have no interest in working on that novel and have pretty much concluded that it's unsalvageable.  On the other hand, my Rupert the Magical Pony stories seem to be a hit with the 20-30 somethings, as well as adults more in touch with their inner childishness.  I would like to tell you why I started telling these stories and what they mean to me.

Once upon a time, there was a magical pony.  He was a lonely magical pony, because he didn't have a name, and didn't know he was a magical pony because he was lost in the ether.  Then one day, someone began to tell a story, and the magical pony had a shape and a name, and his name was Rupert the magical pony...  Okay, no that's too silly.

So I was in bed with my fiance trying to get to sleep and I started telling this story.  I had previously asked Danny to tell me stories to keep him from talking about really boring things while I was driving or doing whatever it is where he's just sitting there while I'm doing something else.*  Strangely this got me to thinking about what stories I would tell if put in the same situation.  I've always somewhat liked the name Rupert and the idea of pairing it with something entirely opposite of its otherwise dignified connotations.  Thus my first character was born.  Although Rupert stories are entirely silly and irreverent, I do think they have something to teach us. 

All of Rupert's problems are usually his own fault, typically because he doesn't listen to his friends when they tell him something is a bad idea, or because he makes fairly obvious bad decisions about his safety and/or trusting strangers.  We'll take the two published stories as examples.  In Rupert the Magical Pony Meets a Spacemonaut, Rupert's downfall is in assuming that what is good for one creature is also good for him and being too eager to accept a gift.  I would like to think that most of us would hesitate if an alien race landed in our city and offered us a drink as a gift.  I don't know about you, but I'd have some questions about how similar our physiologies are, and what the chemical properties of the drink might be.  No matter how well-meaning the alien, it doesn't mean they can't offer something that you really ought not to accept.  I think that's true with friends as well.  In Rupert the Magical Pony and the Pirate Adventures, Rupert makes the mistake of assuming that his rescuer won't hurt him.  One could easily compare it with the philosophical tale about the frog and the scorpion, which would be apt since there is definitely a bit of influence there.

During NaNoWriMo, Rupert put himself through some much more interesting and terrible situations in order to demonstrate some pretty important lessons that ought to be common sense.  Due to the nature of these stories I have labeled them Adult Cautionary Tales.  This label appeals to me, because while Rupert stories are certainly not suitable for children, they have a sense of humor and a simplicity that are purposely in line with more childlike sensibilities.  These are stories that don't take themselves seriously, because we hope that the lessons they contain have already been learned by the people they're being told to. 

Maybe you think they're stupid, and you're probably right.  They are a bit stupid, but they're fun, and they're harmless, and I wrote some amazing stories that I dare you not to laugh at.  I hope to soon have such gems as Rupert the Magical Pony's Exorcism, Rupert the Magical Pony and the Seagull Grass, and Rupert the Magical Pony Practices His Magical Pony Curses available for public consumption soon.  In the meantime, I need to get back to my reading and editing.

*Ed Note: I do not talk about boring things.

I liked this rather succinct review from The Book Nest.

27 November 2010

Day 245: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.  ISBN: 9780545128285.

I really appreciate that Rowling added this little bit to the Harry Potter world.  Fairy tales are so very, very important to a culture, and you can definitely see what the values of the wizarding world are through this short collection.  Even looking at our "own" cultures fairy tales, you can see where the values lie.  I put "own" in quotations marks because... they are over two hundred years old.  Although they were originally published as written works in 1812 (Grimm), they were likely handed down orally for several generations beforehand.  Needless to say society has changed a little more than these stories have.

What? Disney versions?  Disney doesn't make fairy tales.  Disney makes fantasies.  I say this because in most cases, the princess is not responsible for her own rescue in any way.  This has changed a little bit in recent years, but it still means relying on another person for happiness, usually a prince of some sort.  Meanwhile fairy tales often have "unhappy" endings for the protagonist or at the very least involve some sort of sacrifice they have to make to get what they want.  And bad things happen, things like having to cut out your own tongue for your love, only to find that he's in love with someone else and you have to make the decision to kill both of them or turn into seafoam.  Bad things.  Not having a seawitch borrow your voice and then pose as a land-dweller, nope, that ability to speak is gone forever. 

It makes the stories more potent and the sacrifice more real.  Instead, we are replacing it with these lighthearted versions where as long as you "believe" or show "enough love", you will get the guy, with the help of your male friends who sometimes literally have the brains of fish, crabs, and birds...  Thanks Disney, for that vote of confidence in the power of female intellect.  But the old tales have their problems too.  Obviously they are still extremely misogynist, some more than others. 

So what are our current fairy tales?  What literature or stories are we going to be passing down to the next generation to endure as an indicator of what our values are?  Internet memes?  That's depressing, but they do tend to be topical.  For example I've seen a lot of memes about the TSA "security" bullshit.  I would say that the TSA has done an excellent job of making itself into a villian of the ages.  But no, those are too fleeting. 

I would be willing to say that Harry Potter is our modern fairy tale.  I think enough people have grown up with them or been affected by them as adults that they will have a lasting presence in our culture.  They certainly express many of our modern day concerns: need for security; the desire to protect children for as long as possible regardless of whether it's possible; general growing up and living daily life; class/race concerns; etc.  And also our modern day morals...or at least ideals: sacrifice for the greater good (Snape!); helping friends; showing kindness even when it's hard; and many others that I can't think of right at this moment because it's been two years(?) since I finished the last book of the series.

I'm going to say it, I am not a "fan" of the Harry Potter series.  I liked them, and I think they are a worthy addition to literature.  But I find it hard to be fanatical about much of anything...because being fanatical kind of makes you do crazy things and I'm unfortunately just a little too grounded to be that obsessed about anything.  I would definitely be okay having Harry Potter represent us to future generations.  Are there other series or books that you think would be good fairy tale replacements?

I liked this rather succinct review from The Book Nest.

26 November 2010

Day 244: The Cat Who Talked Turkey

The Cat Who Talked Turkey by Lilian Jackson Braun. ISBN: 9781413256239.

I, um, I used to like these. I have no idea what I liked about them now. I mean, crime solving cats are pretty awesome, but this was really insipid. I don't think I cared about any of the characters, and the crime was solved in the last chapter, but only because things fell into the hands of the “handsome,” mustachioed, older but distinguished protagonist. Supposedly this is a man who is at least relatively educated in journalism... but who has apparently never seen a turkey. These things do not compute. I guess maybe he didn't grow up with a TV and went to very rural college? I really can't explain how someone would not be able to recognize a turkey, not with the insidiousness of Thanksgiving decorations, etc.

The thing that pissed me off about this book the most: Polly. Polly is Qwill's (that mustachioed, cat owning gentleman) main lady. They apparently aren't dating exclusively because every time Polly even mentions another man in tones of anything other than derision, Qwill instantly assumes that he is Polly's new “interesting man.” Polly doesn't seem to get cheesed off by this, but maybe being an older lady Braun thinks that this behavior is endearing or “flattering”. Uh, it's not, and Polly seems to be a very together and smart lady and should have had that talk with Qwill about their relationship way before this became an issue.

The second thing that pissed me off by Polly was her behavior on a date. They went to what was obviously a nicer restaurant in the quaint town of Pickax, and rather than focusing on the more enjoyable aspects of the food she complained about everything. She did not say one nice thing about the food, and then instead of having a well rounded conversation with her date, she talked on and on and on about the new bookstore and her retirement from the library. Not that I cared to hear Qwill drone on about his damn cats and his hokey column, but there are date protocols that were seriously ignored here. I think it's the food thing that really pissed me off. I seriously doubt I would be willing to ask someone out who obviously didn't enjoy the chosen activity.  I might even take offense if they whined enough to imply that maybe I had bad taste in restaurants. 

I, my friends, am a fatkid, and I know my food. I enjoy food, and I enjoy eating with people who enjoy food. Polly is obviously not a fatkid. She has no interest in food or eating or enjoying the process. She is ungracious to her company by the constant run of negative commentary, “The confit is too lemony, the portions are too big, the dessert is too rich.” If you hate eating so much, next time just order the salad so you can talk about something interesting and make commentary on the restaurant décor instead. 

Of course if the food is bad I'm not saying you shouldn't talk about it, but there is a way to put it into a positive light, and really... the way the comments were thrown in, implied that she didn't want it to be a topic of conversation, but that she was just making commentary to avoid dead air. You know what, dead air is okay in conversation, and especially on a date, it gives you a chance to observe body behavior and maybe exchange a shy glance or two... or even to put food in your mouth.So, Lib's LIB dating advice tip #1: Don't talk about the food if you can't say something interesting about it, especially if it's on the complaining side.   Hopefully you didn't break that rule yesterday at the family gathering...

My review can be found on Goodreads.

25 November 2010

Day 243: Deadeye Dick

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut.  ISBN: 9780440017806.

In line with yesterday's post, I really sort of like Rudy/Vonnegut's view on our lives being an opening and closing to a peephole... but the lack of autonomy given in that viewpoint is also disappointing.  I think we have more control over our lives than just watching as they unfold, but it also very much explains Rudy's lack of desire to really change anything for himself and fits very well with his general malaise and personality.  And what bothers me most is that I can identify with that malaise and feeling of stuck-ed-ness for lack of a better word.  

I think the most telling sentence regarding this belief is expressed by Rudy about his father's death which he describes as, 'Otto was allowed to stop being himself and once again became wisps of nothingness again.' (paraphrased.)  On some level this is absolutely beautiful.  I love the idea that we were once nothing, and then we become something and have to go through life and experience it, and when it's done we get to be nothing again.  I like the idea of cycles of rest and activity, it flows so well with what we already know of life.  But Rudy sees it pessimistically because during a critical part of his life he lost the ability to define himself, at least as the public saw him.

Instead of giving Rudy some strength, this "peephole" mentality took it away from him.  I think he fell back on it and resigned himself to his fate because, when his peephole opened, he was told that he was rich and he was white and he was male and he was privileged, etc.  And so he accepted that this was another circumstance of being allowed to view life through "this" peephole.

The level of consciousness we're given is an extremely bizarre thing, and I definitely sometimes feel like I'm looking through a peephole, but it's not quite apt.  We still do have some ability to interact with things around us, whereas if you're only looking at something through a peephole it means you're stuck behind a door with little to no ability to do anything about it, unless you yell through or open the door.  But Vonnegut is trying to reinforce that feeling of being stuck, and so Rudy is definitely stuck behind his door and in his situation.  But we aren't Rudy, and we can open the door, kick it down, yell at it or through it.  And even though we can't change the fact that we're looking through a peephole, we can change the door.

I didn't rate it as highly, but I liked this review from a fellow Goodreader.  I didn't find any book bloggers who had covered it.

24 November 2010

Day 242: Deadeye Dick

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut.  ISBN: 9780440017806.

Rudy Waltz has the misfortune of accidentally shooting someone when he's twelve years old and then being labeled a murderer for the rest of his life.  He also has the misfortune of having parents who were born into very specific roles in life and who made no attempts to improve or change their situation at all.  This wasn't much of a problem until they lost all of their money in a lawsuit, and, having been rich, had no skills, etc. to aid them in becoming productive members of society.

I have mixed feelings about the "born into a situation" deal, or allowing circumstances to affect quality of life.  I have pretty much always had mixed feelings about this, but obviously my current employment situation has made this even more complicated.  I do think that being born poor or rich has much more of an effect on how someone will turn out than if they're born middle class. In the middle class example, success is pretty much based on personality, personal decisions and work ethic.  It's unfortunate because I think we all deserve the chance to be the best people we can be, and I don't think those born with privilege or disadvantage are given that same chance.  What's that? You're confused about the privileged not getting a fair chance either?

Okay, let me explain.  If you don't have to work for a living or struggle to get something you want, are you going to do it?  No.  Okay, so why would you?  I think people who have and are prepared to work hard and struggle tend to be much more well rounded people and more aware of exactly how difficult it is to produce good work.  Strugglers have the benefit of developing skills they may or may not need in the future, and I think they also tend to be a little more ingenious in their thinking, mostly because they have to be.  There are some obvious exceptions to this.  For instance, the inventor of Facebook.  Facebook is not really a necessity and it doesn't positively contribute to the community so much as it gives community a chance to function on a completely different level.  Honestly, as cool as it is, Facebook doesn't actually produce anything, it is a Manager, which is exactly what I would expect someone of privilege to come up with as a solution for dealing with social situations; particularly someone who is not good with social situations. 

So, poor people.  The thing about being poor is that it is indefinitely hard to dig yourself out of that situation.  The poorer you are, the more likely you are to know only poor people, because of the way our schools are set up and because of the way our society and social system is set up.  I think too many of us are still under the assumption that people who are poor are poor because it's their fault.  That might be the case in some situations, but we need to stop going to that thought as the default.  Being poor can be a terrible demotivator and it's hard to let go of that feeling that you can't achieve success or a better situation for yourself when you've never been in a good situation.  

Rudy found himself stuck in this same pattern.  He even briefly managed to escape being "Deadeye Dick" when he went to New York, and he fell apart because he didn't know who he was anymore.  He was so used to being the village murderer that he hadn't worked to define himself in any other way.  Rather than focusing on his positive attributes as a person (his dedication to parents who didn't even recognize his contributions), instead he decided to "neuter" himself.  Not in the way that Rudy thinks he neutered himself, which is as a sexual being, but in his potential to really achieve personhoodHe killed someone, and he willingly forfeited his right to be a worthy individual (according to himself).  This is a huge loss, because we do get to see a bit of Rudy's potential.  How many real people are out there wandering around as neuters who are equally wonderful people and just need a little affirmation?  People who need a chance to be something other than what they have been told they are. 

I didn't rate it as highly, but I liked this review from a fellow Goodreader.  I didn't find any book bloggers who had covered it.

23 November 2010

Day 241: A Prayer for the Dying

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan.  ISBN: 9780805061475.

How much do we really owe the dead?  Sure, they're the people who got us where we are today, but on the other hand... they're the people who got us where we are today.  They are deserving of respect in the sense that they were someone's loved one and those loved ones have a right to keep their memories intact, etc.  But... they're dead.  It won't hurt them if we take out their organs and give them to new people or let them rot in a field so we can study decomposition or strap them in a car so we can study the effects of crashes and bruising or put them in a deep dark hole in the ground.  So, why should a person's legacy to society end when they're dead?  Why shouldn't their bodies continue to contribute to the well being of individuals (through organ donation) or the safety and health of the community (forensic science, etc.)?

Well, there isn't a reason.  But some people do have reservations about the bodies of their loved ones being used in what they feel are unsavory ways.  And some people themselves don't want their bodies being used in that way.  My feeling on it is: if you're done with it, why do you care?  It would be like getting upset if someone decided to take some empty boxes you had put by the curb after moving.  That person did you a favor by making sure you didn't have to get rid of the boxes yourself* and they're putting them to good use so they're not just rotting away somewhere.  This is very, very practical reasoning, but it's not for everyone.

And I do understand wanting to have something sacred, about not turning everything into a commodity, but I kind of feel that memories do a better job of that than sticking someone in a $3000 casket, giving them a service that costs I-don't-know-what, putting them in the ground, and plopping a $500 stone over them.  I know I don't want anyone spending $8000 on my funeral.  I'm dead, I don't care, I don't need it, and I highly doubt you will remember me fondly when your last thoughts about me were, "Should we put her in the cedar casket with satin lining or the oak with velvet?"  If you think about it, this makes me more of a commodity than donating my body to science, only it's helping one very small and specific industry rather than being more philanthropic.  Personally, I'd rather have my dead horsemeat body do some good rather than have someone pay to "dispose" of it like a piece of garbage in an over-expensive garbage bag.  So here's what I want, my "funeral" arrangements:

Let science take whatever they want, whether it be for organ donation or whole body, whatever.  Get together at someone's house, have good food and drink, and talk.  Talk about that time we took that road trip or when we stayed up all night in college or we had that really weird conversation at an all night diner.  Talk about how I made you laugh or cry or think.  Read the collection of Rupert stories I finally managed to publish before my death, complete with voices.  Hell, get together and talk about how much of a bitch I was, if that's my legacy.  Shoving me in a dark hole in the ground with my name on a stone doesn't really seem like much of a tribute.  Build me a life-sized statue and I might just let you talk me into becoming a commodity of the funeral industry.

*We're living in a metaphor here where there's no trash pick up, okay?
**Whoops, somehow in the editing process the first sentence disappeared.  Also, I found my post has been taken out of context.  Awesome, does this mean I've arrived?

I agree with this short, but apt review from a fellow Goodreader.  Also... does anyone else think of Freddy Kreuger with this cover?

22 November 2010

Day 240: A Prayer for the Dying

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan.  ISBN: 9780805061475.

Spoiler alert, I give away some major plot points... but they are things you should probably know about before deciding to read this book anyway

First off, apologies to Christy from A Good Stopping Point who commented on my general update announcing I was going to read this title.  I know you were looking forward to my posts and that you like the book, but... me... not so much.  And the big reason: writing in second person.  I did make a point of finishing it specifically because you commented; otherwise this probably would have landed on my "I Give Up" pile.  I will go ahead and explain my reasoning for my distaste for second person today; tomorrow I will discuss Jacob Hansen's (or "my") views on duty to the dead versus the living.  I will go ahead and explain my reasoning for my distaste for second person today, tomorrow I will discuss Jacob Hansen's (or "my") views on duty to the dead versus the living.  Because of the nature of the first topic, this post will be a little reviewy, a little ranty, and possibly even a little angry.  We like those posts, though, don't we?  ...and now I'm writing in collective pronouns, thanks O'Nan... thanks a lot.

So.  I don't like novels written in second person.  I especially don't like novels written in second person where I feel like the author is trying to get me to sympathize with a character.  Either I will or I won't, and no amount of forcing me into his role will make me like him.  And by the way, I didn't.  Part of the problem with writing in second person is assuming that your reader will be able to identify with enough characteristics of the character that they can easily put themselves in the shoes of said character.  This is difficult when your reader happens to be a 25 year old female with no experience of having authority over a small town, who was born in 1985, who has never been to war, doesn't have a child, isn't a Christian with a strong belief in a "Guy in the Sky" kind of a god, and who is mentally stable enough not to keep living with dead loved ones no matter how much she loved them.  Oh yeah, "spoiler" alert, by the way.

It's not that I had a problem with the subject matter of the book, it's that every time Jacob/"I" had to make a decision, he always made the one I would never have made and likely caused more harm than good.  It was jarring and frustrating on multiple levels because not only did I feel that this story was forced on me, but it also felt that Jacob's decisions were forced on me.  Maybe O'Nan was trying to make me feel the hopelessness of Jacob's position, but I already felt that and you know what?  I already have my own hopelessness to deal with, so thanks a lot you big jerk for forcing your character's hopelessness on me AND his weird, weird "coping" mechanism over the death of his wife and child.

This is really a shame, because I think O'Nan has a really good hand with prose and his dialog isn't bad.  Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy it because it was less than aparagraph long and then I would get jolted back out of the scene by sentences like the one in the following paragraph,
"The cranberry bogs west of town are parched, burned brown.  Dragonflies slice by, wings shimmering.  It's good to be moving, and you stand up on the pedals and race a scarlet tanager, winning when he lights on a fencepost, but even as you slow, letting the breeze cool you, you know you're trying not think of the soldier, of the awful possibilities."   Page 43.
This is a pretty good description.  It does a number of things: it gives you a little bit of scenery of the town, it tells you how fast the man is going, and it tells you what he's thinking about... or rather trying not to think about.  Unfortunately it would have been much more digestible to me if all the "you's" in that last sentence had been replaced with Jacob or he/him, O'Nan could have brought in a little more description about Jacob riding the bicycle here and it could have been a much stronger paragraph.  Here's probably how I would have rewritten this:
"The cranberry bogs west of town are parched, burned brown.  Dragonflies slice by, wings shimmering.  Jacob thinks how good it is to be moving, stands up on the pedals to race a scarlet tanager, picking up speed while trying to keep the small bird in the corner of his eye.  He slows when he sees that the bird has won when it lights on a fencepost.  The breeze cools him as he coasts, regaining his breath, and trying not to think of the dead solider, and the awful possibilities."
It still keeps the poetic language, it does not detract at all from O'Nan's style or prose to write in third person, and it would be much easier to accept the more... grotesque scenes that occur later in the book.  Instead O'Nan has me worked up because yet another person is trying to tell me what to do with my life and what I "should have done" after all the bad stuff has already happened.

Two words: not helpful.

Gee, of course you know what I should have done, because you aren't the one who had to make the decisions I had to make and so you get to sit on your happy ass and judge based on what happened instead of actually doing something to be helpful or being supportive of my decision.  Trust me, I already know I made mistakes, I already know that things have gone to shit, I now know that I should have stayed in school longer or stuck it out at the insurance company longer and made more money or I should have gone back to temping months ago, but you know what: Not helpful.  These are things that I cannot change now, and having someone force me to relive that feeling of hopeless anxiety and guilt that I "did the wrong thing" just pisses me off.  Maybe if I had read this at a different time I wouldn't have been as frustrated with it as I am now... but somehow I doubt it.

If you want to tell me a story, tell me a story.  Don't drag me along through the mire of your character's mess and expect me to be happy or enjoy or even appreciate being shoved into a fatalistic spiral of inescapable death.  If you want to write in second person, stick to essays; that is where the second person belongs, and I would definitely be interested in reading an essay on O'Nan's thoughts regarding a duty to the dead in times of crises for the living.

I agree with this short, but apt review from a fellow Goodreader.  Also... does anyone else think of Freddy Kreuger with this cover?

21 November 2010

Day 239: Behemoth

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld.  ISBN: 9781416971757.

You know what makes me a happy person?  When authors write about libraries.  Especially when those authors depict them in a positive light; brownie points when they make them cool.  Well, what would be cooler than a steampunk library?  And I am not talking about a collection of books on steampunk or of the genre...  I am talking about a library that runs on steam/mechanics.  I've got to say, I love the imagination that Westerfeld put into this one, because libraries do tend to be a little slow on the technological uptake (those of you who have public libraries that don't have their own Facebook page yet will know what I'm talking about).  This is starting to change as younger librarians are entering the field and it's becoming cool to not only be nerdy, but well read and into books.  Trust me, it is, I would much rather talk to a person holding a paperback than a cigarette.  True story.

So what does Westerfeld's library look like?  Well, it has closed stacks for one.  This means that you have to approach a librarian and ask for the books you're looking for, and they retrieve them for you.  This has a lot of benefit for both librarian and patron, though it also has a lot of downsides.  Benefits include the books being in the right place all of the time, so they are more easily and quickly found.  Said books are less likely to be damaged, because if you have to turn it back in to the librarian by hand, they will give you a disapproving look if it is soiled or has a cracked spine.*  The downsides include a lack of privacy; someone will know that you're looking up information about STDs, adoption, or that weird toe fungus you can't get rid of.  And Westerfeld actually pointed out the biggie of the closed stack problem, which I give him major bonus points for: browsing.

You can't browse a closed stack, although that's gotten easier with online catalogs since you can now do call number searches/browsing in the catalog.  But retrieving your own books has the benefit of calling up materials that didn't sound relevant in the catalog, or didn't sound relevant to the librarian when you were describing your project, but that you just know are going to be useful.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have found research gems I hadn't planned for while looking for something almost completely different.  Sometimes it gave me a means of broadening my topic when I realized there wasn't enough research to write that 30 page paper on opium use in Irish communities during the 1920's in rural Ohio, or sometimes it let me know that I needed to narrow my topic when I found too many resources on women in the military during World War II. This also applies to pleasure reading, of course, but closed stacks are most likely to be present in academic libraries, with the exception of more prudish communities that might keep the "naughty" books away from the general public.

Uh... enough with the boring library rant.  Okay, so!  Gadgets!  There are gadgets that get your books for you from the closed stacks so you don't have to get your grubby hands all over the books!  The drawing of the clockwork mechanism looks somewhat like a cross between a grasshopper and a heavy duty stapler with a clamp on its back that holds the books in place after retrieval.**  Apparently you insert a punched card into a machine and it gives instructions to the retrieval unit, you go sit your butt down at an assigned carrel and it brings you the books!  I'm sorry, I think this is cool, I can imagine a whole library full of tiny crawling metal grasshoppers.  I bet it would be pretty noisy though with all the tinkling and whirring of spinning gears and metal.  But think of the room you could save if people didn't actually have to go into the stacks!  You could have bookcases less than a foot away from each other and the clockworks wouldn't care!

Actually, we have libraries that are set up like this in some ways.  You won't see this in a regular library, but there are book depositories for large university libraries and/or library consortia.  Books are actually stored by size, because it makes more sense in a non-browsing collection.  The boxes are tagged and in the catalog or computer software, it marks which box a specific book is in.  Then they're put on shelves and retrieved and replaced by giant metal robot arms that know where said book is and go fetch it.  Of course, then a human worker has to go into the box and pick out the exact book, but it's still pretty neat.  Here's more info on a local to me book depository.

I was going to get into the future of libraries/librarians (the next person who says they won't be necessary will be chained to a desk and forced to wade through the results of a crappy search string on Google), but um, this has gone on long enough don't you think?

*You don't have to crack the book open, if you do open it and hear that sound, congratulations, you've just ruined your book and it will start falling apart shortly.  
**The illustrations in this novel are borderline necessary, and definitely enrich the reading experience in an impressive way.  The illustrator and author came up with some very nice moments to illustrate instead of just slapping them in where they were most convenient.  

This was a pretty apt review from One Librarian's Book Reviews, and I agree with the statement about the cover switcheroo from A Dribble of Ink.  If I had plans for collecting these books, I would be beyond pissed off, because the original Leviathan cover was freaking awesome.

20 November 2010

Day 238: Behemoth

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld.  ISBN: 9781416971757.

I started typing this up and realized it had turned into a review, if a somewhat disjointed one.  Anyway, take 2.  So when I put this book down, after finishing the last chapter at 12:30ish in the morning, I had to fight the urge to go immediately to my stack of books and start another.  In fact, I so much wanted to pick up another book I thought about just grabbing the next closest book and starting that one right away.  It was just a pleasure to read.  Part of this is probably because it's not so heavy handed on the character development and is mostly plot-driven.

People don't seem to be writing/publishing plot-driven books much anymore, so this was an exceptionally wonderful thing to read, because I just hadn't seen it in a while.  Most of the teen books nowadays are focused on the relationships between characters or how characters mature and grow into real people and not sniveling brats.  This can certainly be interesting, but it is much harder to make interesting than throwing your characters into a World War where there are fabricated monsters and crazy-ass machines with freakin' lightning towers.  Your characters aren't going to sit around and have tea all day and talk about their feelings, they're going to run away from or fight whatever is chasing them from plot point to plot point.  And I want to ask authors and publishers, WHY aren't books like this being published right now...  or is it just that they aren't being marketed/talked about?

There are really very few books out there that make me instantly want to go and read another book, especially since I started taking up the blog.  With the blog I have to give myself a little time to stew and think about what I want to write about.  This is not always possible because, holy crap I post everyday at noon and it has to get edited first because I comma* splice like whoa.  But this one definitely managed to give me that rush of, "Everything is happening, and I want it to keep happening!"  It almost brought me back to my first days of reading, when all of the stories were still new and fresh and I practically lived off of them.  It was kind of incredible to be put back in that emotional mindset or situation, because I so rarely get excited about the act of reading.

That's not exactly true, but with this I was almost giddy: it wasn't just something I enjoyed, it was something I got real, verifiable pleasure and reward from.  That's it, it felt rewarding to read this.  I felt like I got a pay off from this instead of the, "Well, that was interesting, what's next on the list?"  It was more of a, "Nice! I can't wait to read my next book!"

What books have made you feel like this?  I will say His Dark Materials had some of this pull for me, although I really just wanted to read the next in the book.  Behemoth gave me a more Must Read Everything feel.

*My editor wants me to note that I originally wrote "coma splice".  I blame NaNoWriMo.

This was a pretty apt review from One Librarian's Book Reviews, and I agree with the statement about the cover switcheroo from A Dribble of Ink.  If I had plans for collecting these books, I would be beyond pissed off, because the original Leviathan cover was freaking awesome.

19 November 2010

Day 237: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Summerland by Michael Chabon.  ISBN: 9780786808779.

At one point in the story, our heroes have been captured by not-so-nice faeries.  Two of them break loose and search throughout the faeries' compound for a magic thingy that will heal their wounded friend.  As luck would have it, they eventually make their way into the fearies' treasure chamber.

Chabon points out that rather than being full of gold and jewels, the room is jam-packed with junk: broken odds and ends, discarded bits of stuff, and a whole lot of unmatched socks.  In other words, one human's trash is a faerie's treasure.  And while the fae seem to value most the things which they can steal undetected, I can still sort of sympathize with them.

All my life, I've always walked with my eyes pointed groundward and because of this choice in vantage points, I've brought many a piece of useless crap home.  I'm a compulsive junk collector, you might say.  Anything which I see on the sidewalk, in the grass, in the dirt, in the snow, or tarred to the road surface has a chance of winding up in my pockets, and from there, onto one of my shelves or one of the many heavy, plastic containers I have full of useless crap.  I've kept them around for years.  Did I mention I'm compulsive?

What I'm likely to pick up is hard to quantify.  Shiny things attract my attention.  The bulk of my collection is made up of rocks, but I've lately stopped really noticing those.  I tend to pick up things which are whole unto themselves, but otherwise broken.  Stuff with moving parts is great.  I've found toys, screws and bolts, jewelry (probably my favorite), wooden things, dice, rubber stampers, bottlecaps, cell phone batteries, pieces of plastic...  I could really go on and on.  I once found an entire car headlight, sans bulb.

Of course, it isn't all useless.  One of my most prized possessions is a metal hoop, a little over a foot in diameter, with a kink on one edge.  I think it used to be a TV antenna of some kind.  I hope to turn it into a microphone windscreen one day.  Not to mention, I find money constantly.  I once found over two dollars in random coins scattered over a ten-foot section of sidewalk.

I really think that what makes this 'hobby', if you will, so compelling is the sense of finding value where someone else sees none.  They discard it, I pick it up and treasure it.  And money is the best example, because you can actually use it for something.  One man's trash and all that.  Yes, dear, the junk is coming with me when we move in together.*  Some of it, anyway.

*That's what you think.

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't unemployed temporarily working at a bookstore. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Wright State University in 2004 and a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Kent State University in 2009. He will make some lucky librarian a wonderful husband someday. 

**This post was originally written September 26, 2010 to allow the regular author a break and/or a chance to catch up on her own reading. 

18 November 2010

Day 236: Dan Walker (guest blogger)

Summerland by Michael Chabon.  ISBN: 9780786808779.

I guess I should talk about baseball.

Being a nerd and all, I'm not all up on my sports.  I always got C's in gym due to being out of shape and thoroughly unconcerned with the whole winning and losing bit.  I'm not terribly coordinated, and I sure don't give a damn about team spirit.  I'm one of those people who watches the Super Bowl for the commercials (because, damn, they funny).

But yeah, baseball.  It's never appealed to me, what with the running and the sliding in the dirt and the having to hit/catch a hard little ball with a hard little stick of wood/thin leather glove.  It's kind of like golf, only more sadistic.  I'd much rather play kickball, which at least has you aiming for a much larger target.

Which is funny, because one of the few sports I like playing is tennis (the other one is soccer).  At least the rackets have much larger surface area than a baseball bat, and you don't have to worry about having more than one other person on your team, if that.  I was very surprised when I first took tennis in gym class, how much I enjoyed it, and I can't really say for certain what about the game appeals to me.  I do know that I took it again during the requisite second year of gym class (we got to pick about four different activities per semester).

Baseball, football, hockey, basketball: it probably is the team aspect which turns me away.  I never liked working in groups as a student, so why should playing on a team be any different?  And yet, reading this book, a game of baseball seemed so nice.  Who knows, if I hadn't been so awkward and uncoordinated, maybe I could have come to appreciate a leisurely game of baseball between friends.

Dan Walker (pseudonym) is a writer from Northeast Ohio, who would be teaching ESL if he wasn't unemployed temporarily working at a bookstore. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Wright State University in 2004 and a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Kent State University in 2009. He will make some lucky librarian a wonderful husband someday.

17 November 2010

Day 235: Are You There God, It's Me Margaret

Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume.  ISBN: 9780689841583.

I very much identified with Margaret's struggle with religion.  Although I was raised Unitarian Universalist, and I still am, it's not a religion where you can point to a book and say, "all of that."  There are as many different kinds of UU as there are sects of Christianity.  It's extremely difficult trying to explain this to other people your age who have never even had contact with a Jewish person, especially when you are between the ages of eight and fourteen and pretty much all of your opinions are from your parents/friends/church pastor/horoscope and so you have no real reason behind them other than "Uh, they're the right ones because people tell me they're right."

I got so frustrated with trying to explain what my religion was to people who made no effort to "get it" that I eventually just got fed up and started saying, "yeah, yeah it does mean that I worship Satan and eat babies."  This was an act of desperation to get them to leave me alone, and sadly it worked.  I say sadly because for me it meant quite a few years of being lonely and misunderstood, and sad for them because it allowed them to keep their eyes firmly shut against the rest of the world.  On the one hand, I really should have been more open and patient in explaining what my religion meant to me; on the other hand I am and pretty much always have been mostly a private practitioner.  My relationship with god is very personal, and I don't feel like I should have to explain it or defend it to anyone else, and it was an especially unfair thing to have to go through so young and in such a hostile environment.  It very nearly killed my soul. 

I also had a grandmother who was very concerned with said soul and wanted me to convert to Southern Baptist.  We didn't see her very much, but it became almost painful to visit her after about the age of five.  Staying overnight meant I had to say prayers before going to bed and staying during the weekend meant I had to go to church.  This got more and more awkward the older I got because I very much disagreed with many of the things her faith preached.

I haven't had to deal with any of these issues recently, because most of the communities I belong to at the moment are all too polite to even ask what religion I am, and strangely, now I kind of wish I had someone to talk about it with.

16 November 2010

Day 234: Are You There God, It's Me Margaret

Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume.  ISBN: 9780689841583.

First off, tiny picture is tiny because it's the only one I could find of this cover.  Apparently it was unpopular, or an alternate cover, because the only images I found were practically thumbnail size.  It'll have to do.  Also, for the whiners, I'm not going to bother linking a review to this one, because I think everyone born in the last 30 years knows what this book is about.

I very much remember being Margaret's age.  Obviously there were things that were very different given the time this was written, but for the most part I would say it accurately depicts that very troublesome period of growing up.  I don't remember wanting to be the first one who got her period or worrying if I would be the last one.  This probably had something to do with the fact that most of the people I was close to were actually closer to menopause than their first menstruation.  I had just moved from California to Oklahoma, and it was just easier to make friends with the teacher than with kids my own age.  They all pretty much knew each other from kindergarten, and having some new kid show up five years later did not make them particularly eager to be friends, especially as I was somewhere between 4'8"-5'2".  In other words, I was freakishly tall and they probably associated that with authority on some level, and this is the start of the age where authority is not to be trusted.

I definitely was one of the first kids in my age group to get my period.  Although, I don't think it was really until 8th or 9th grade where I really "needed" to wear a bra, and I'll be honest, I went without most days in undergrad because A) hippy school and B) bras are expensive so they didn't wear out as quickly and C) when you're an A cup, hardly anyone notices anyway.  But there wasn't really any special feeling attached with it.  My mother didn't make a big deal out of me getting my period.  I didn't make a big deal out of it, although I kind of wanted someone else to.  A fancy dinner or something would have been nice.  I was pretty young when it happened, I remember it was in October when I was 10 because it was the first year I went as a grim reaper (I wore the costume 2 more times).

A lot of girls and women complain about their period.  Personally, I have never really found it to be that big of a deal, even when I was 14 and my flow was particularly heavy (this was the time I became a vegetarian and the whole borderline anemia thing REALLY helped me out there).  It was inconvenient, but it's not like it didn't go away, and the light days are practically unnoticeable.  I will say, as I've gotten older the cramping has gotten worse, and it's really annoying.  Also I sometimes have the urge to eat everything in sight (more so than usual even).  But I have to tell you, I actually breathe a sigh of relief every time I get my period.

A lot of this has to do with being sexually active, but some of it also has to do with my body telling me that I'm "normal."  I like knowing that my body is regulating itself in such a way that I am producing this function that happens once every 28 days, and when it doesn't do so that there is something wrong with my body, or something has changed enough to affect my regularly scheduled program.  Call me weird, but I think women have a big leg up in that area over men.  Their first sign that something is wrong with that area of their body is peeing blood.  Which would you rather have: no blood when you're expecting it, or blood when you've never had it there?

I guess I just never really got why that was one of the "negatives" of being a woman.  It doesn't prevent me from taking certain jobs or voting or getting an education or body specific healthcare.  I mean, the worst thing about being a woman is that men still treat us like women first instead of people.

15 November 2010

Day 233: a general update

Hello everyone.  I have surprisingly been able to keep up with the blog throughout NaNoWriMo.  In fact, I am about a week ahead as of writing this (on the 8th), both with the blog and the collection of short stories I'm working on.  It's been challenging, but at least I know it's doable since I've successfully completed a NaNo before, if not an actual novel (it was unsalvageable and I didn't get through all my plot points).  I'm tempted to write an entire blog post about my feelings regarding NaNoWriMo, but so many people have already done that and I doubt anyone is particularly interested in yet another opinion piece.  II will say this: even though I'm doing it, I am not 100% pro-NaNo.  At least, I do not think it is necessarily the best way to write a novel.  But please, leave a comment if you wish me to continue that thread.

In other news, I added a list of stuff for you to check out as an extra page on my blog, and I did a little remodeling a week or so ago.  So if you tend to read via RSS, you might want to check out the new page layout and my list of other blogs/webcomics/etc. to check out.

Here's what I plan to read, although I expect to start posting guest posts during the start of the third week..... unless I have magically finished already, in which case I will promptly die from the brain-fry.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.
I'm fairly certain I somehow managed to skip this one growing up.  I think Judy Blume was less popular with me by the time I was "ready" for it, and besides I was fairly precocious and already knew all about my menstrual cycle by the time I was five, which is good because I got it fairly young.  I can identify with wanting certain things to mature faster, since I am still waiting for my boobs.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld.
Yay!!! The next installment in Leviathan.  I was only nominally thrilled with the first, but I'm hoping to see the characters mature and hopefully become a bit more interesting.  I am trying to make myself like steampunk...  I think I do... just not the way it's currently being written.  I'm a strange beast.  

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut.
I have no idea what this is about, I just know it's a Vonnegut and I lurve him enough to read almost anything he's written.  Which is good because he wrote a lot.  Also, I had a bit part in my high school play called "Deadeye Dick and the Game of Gold."  True story.  I was a miner. 

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan.
I picked this up because it was in the "staff reads" section and met my criteria for November reads.  In other words, "Oh hey, this looks nominally entertaining, someone from the library recommended it, and it has less than 200 pages."

The Stupidest Angel : A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore.
I tend to hate holiday novels, but holybutts to I love Christopher Moore.  That man makes me giggle in a way that his wholey inappropriate for a woman of my age and professional background.  He also falls into the category of Men I Would Make Out With Solely For Intellectual Purposes In The Hopes Of Absorbing Some Of His Awesomeness.  Any woman worth dating has a list like this, and if you are a woman who doesn't have a list like this, you really ought to start one.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard : A Wizarding Classic from the World of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.
My someday-to-be father-in-law is very much into Harry Potter.  He has read and reread Harry Potter so often that we occasionally have to buy him new copies as he breaks the spines, etc.  He is also somewhat, uh, terse in his manner.  I hope one day to be able to talk to him, and on that day I vow to be able to have something to talk to him about.  Also...the shortness and the noveling thing...

14 November 2010

Day 232: Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  ISBN: 9780395510605.

A major concept in this book is bravery and how we recognize it.  I think there are a lot of us out there who do brave things everyday.  Certainly we don't often get the chance to take big risks in order to save people, but sometimes it's the little acts of bravery that we tend to overlook that are the most important.  It could be something like introducing yourself to a neighbor, telling someone they look nice today, or bringing food to someone ill, small acts that have the potential to change someone's day.

There are a lot of bloggers out there, for instance, who take up very serious political issues, some of which are quite unpopular.  I have even delved into it occasionally, and although I have not personally faced some of the abuse, I know there are others out there who have.  In fact I am often terrified of posting something too political or too religious or too something that will potentially offend someone, but this is ultimately a blog about my personal thoughts and feelings in regards to what I am reading and so the topics do come up.  I am thankful to have such polite and open-minded readers that they do not feel the need to try and shout me down on my own forum.  I am saddened by the thought that some of my posts might cause me to lose readers, but it is ultimately their right not to read my blog. 

I do want to say that I think it's incredibly brave to make those posts anyway.  Yeah, okay, I'm sort of patting myself on the back here, but that's not really how it's intended.  I think it is extremely brave to engage in conversation, open dialogue, and to publish your thoughts and feelings.  I think the addage, "It is not polite to speak about politics or religion" has actually done our country a great deal of harm.  I think we need to talk about these things...  but not in the way they're currently being talked about.  We are terribly, terribly out of practice in having polite discourse about sensitive subjects and because of that nothing gets done, we avoid our neighbors, and we lack a reasonable understanding of other cultures and other people because we can't even talk to them about the things that matter to them and deeply affect their lives.

I think it would be a brave thing for an athiest to talk to a Christian about a moment in the Christian's life where they personally felt touched by god.  And I think it would be equally brave for the Christian to accept that said athiest can be a good and righteous person without the influence of Christ in their lives, and that morality is a somewhat fluid concept, and that the athiest does not necessarily need to be converted.  These are both difficult things and difficult concepts for both parties to accept.  But these are the conversations that we need to have and these are the concepts we at least need to start thinking about.  I only used these two as examples...  there are many, many more conversations that need to happen, and everyone needs to feel safe to have those conversations, both to ask questions and express views that may be offensive and to tell people why those views are or could be offensive without automatically assuming that the person who asked them intentionally means harm by speaking/asking.

I hope people will respectfully tell me when I have offended them, and tell me why.  I may not be able to revoke my words, but I can offer an apology for offending their feelings and act more appropriately in the future.  If I continue to offend, at least it will because I actually am a bigot and not through ignorance, and you, my readers, will then know the difference.

I thought the review from little reading room more or less summed up my feelings adequately.  I will say that I think I'm too old for this book as I wanted something much meatier, but enjoyed it anyway.

13 November 2010

Day 231: Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  ISBN: 9780395510605.

I think one of the things we forget about today is that war often means sacrifice.  This is because it seems like only a few families really make sacrifices anymore, and most of us live in countries where we can go to war and be relatively unaffected now.  How many people out there are still clamoring for the next iPhone or Android while our soldiers are over in Afghanistan where they are risking life and limb everyday?  "That doesn't affect me, and I still want my iPhone."

But it should, it should affect you.  War is supposed to hurt, and it's supposed to hurt everyone, otherwise we would stay in a state of perpetual war where the best of our countrymen go out and die for stupid, stupid things just because it doesn't cost us anything.  Maybe it doesn't have to be a big thing, but I think we could all do with a lot less sugar in our lives (this includes me, although please god not during NaNoWriMo).  We could do with some gas rationing, fewer video games, less junk mail, perhaps even rationed internet time.  I kind of like that last one actually, although it would not be overly productive for job hunting now that it's almost entirely online and cover letters are a bear to write.  But I want to point out this bit of dialogue, because these are the things that stick out in my mind:

"When will there be cupcakes again?"
When the war ends... When the soldiers leave."

What little girl today has to ask when she will be able to have her next cupcake?  What little girl is so fixated on something that she loved and can't have because there is no sugar, flour, butter, or sparkly glitter to produce it?  How can we expect our government to reign in spending when we refuse to give anything up?  We want our tax cuts and we want the deficit to go down, but we still want our libraries and our fire departments, etc.  Well, it doesn't work that way, you can't cut spending, decrease taxes and have nice things.  You can't be at war and balance a budget in a country that doesn't understand the principle of sacrifice.

It seems that Americans nowadays find human lives to be far more expendable than money.  This is certainly the message we're sending to other civilized countries when we shout and holler that we don't want to have people who make over $250,000 a year pay an extra thousand dollars or eight or ten thousand so that a child can get braces or cancer treatment or an old man can live the rest of his life in comfort with appropriate hospice care.  And it sure as hell doesn't make us look civilized when we throw our young men and women at the guns of enemies and leave them there for nearly ten years in a country that had nothing to do with the attack on our country to begin with.

Maybe you disagree with me.  That's fine.  There may be some good reasons not to like socialized healthcare.  I haven't heard any yet, but they could potentially exist.  Maybe you like that we're killing our own country men and women and not really doing all that much to spread democracy, and we're sure as hell not spreading peace.

But don't complain to me about how much the government is taxing you when you can still eat that damned pink frosted cupcake while your neighbors and countrymen and other people just like you have lost loved ones overseas or have died because you weren't willing to give up a pittance of your paycheck to save their lives.  If anything needs to be "shoved down your throat," it's that fucking cupcake.  Less political posting tomorrow, sorry, they slip out sometimes, and just because I might hate your politics doesn't mean I hate you.

I thought the review from little reading room more or less summed up my feelings adequately.  I will say that I think I'm too old for this book as I wanted something much meatier, but I enjoyed it anyway.

12 November 2010

Day 230: Tenderness

Tenderness by Robert Cormier.  ISBN: 9780385322867.

I talked yesterday about how I identified with Lori.  Today I'll talk about how we differ.  Lori has infatuations, infatuations that only last as long as it takes for her to find the object of her infatuation and kiss him.  Although I certainly had crushes in the past, they didn't tend to end so quickly or dis/appear for as little reason as Lori's.  In fact, I never really understood girls who were boy crazy, it seemed strange to me to like one guy one week and another the next week.

Most of my crushes actually tended to be on my friends.  They were the people I spent the most time with, the people I knew the best, and they usually had at least some interest in my well being.  I have obviously been attracted to people I don't know before -- that's one of the ways we get to know people, through the initial attraction and desire to learn more about them.  This has worked with both men and women, although sometimes for different reasons.  But to me a crush was never something that came and went with the breeze, that was an infatuation.  And I never really experienced infatuations.

I also didn't let my crushes get in the way of pursuing other relationships.  Most of the friends I had crushes on showed no interest in pursuing more than a friendship with me.  While it was sometimes difficult to deal with, I never let it affect my life negatively or prevent me from being physical with someone else. I don't know if this is normal or not, I might have turned out differently if I had more female friends.  I might have been more prone to the constant switching of affections if I had to be concerned with who my best friend liked/was dating, but since I didn't have to worry about that.  I was at least free to like who I wanted, even if I had to experience the crushing pain of watching them go out with someone else, but at least I knew my relationship would last longer and I didn't have to worry about losing friends because we happened to like the same people.

Thank god I'm an adult now and my hormones have calmed down to the point where I don't get crushes anymore.  Seriously, you could not pay me to be 14-20 again, youth is way overrated.

I more or less agree with this review from Goodreads.  More book bloggers need to read and review this one, I was disappointed with the lack of reviews!

11 November 2010

Day 229: Tenderness

Tenderness by Robert Cormier.  ISBN: 9780385322867.

I think even if you aren't a serial killer or a young woman who uses her body to find "tenderness" that you can find yourself identifying with Lori and Eric's need for it.  Each of them get tenderness in different ways, neither of them particularly healthy, but it is something that every single one of us needs.  There is a psychological and primal need to be touched, and I have found myself desperate for that touch in a way that I understand the extremes Eric and Lori go to, even though I would never go through them myself.

I am not talking about any kind of touch here.  I am specifically talking about the need for tenderness.  I define this as a touch without motivation, or if there is motivation it is one meant only to convey the affection that one human being feels for another and not a prelude to something more.  I think this is something that teenagers in particular have difficulty finding in their lives as parents tend to touch less as sexual development begins and teenagers tend to touch each other more, but in different and not always healthy ways.

I have to admit, I was a bit like Lori in my teenage years.  I definitely sought the attention of men and enjoyed being touched by them, but I think if I had had the simple touch of tenderness I might not have been so eager to give so much, to seek so desperately for affection.  It is confusing for children to go from being touched and cuddled often to an almost complete absence, a near void, of touching.  When we're five our parents are almost always holding our hands and cuddling and when we're eight they're still often affectionate, it's still okay to sit in your parent's lap.  When we're ten we can still get away with cuddling next to a parent during family movie night, but when we get to be twelve things start to change.  We aren't allowed as many public displays of affection, we aren't freely given as many kisses or hugs, it goes from almost too much to almost never in a matter of a few years.

This happens at the same time that friends tend to stop touching as well.  Sure, they are more free and open with their affections, but if you want to hold hands or have prolonged touch, which is something I think we also need, it is much harder to find.  Even if you do find a friend willing to give that sort of touch, there is always the thought that maybe they have other intentions, because it's just that kind of time in our lives when things start to revolve around completely different motivations and we don't know how to react.

I think this is why I find it difficult to comprehend why there are people who don't like to be touched.  On the one hand I understand that it is a very personal thing to touch someone else, but I personally feel unbalanced and unwell if I haven't been touched kindly by another person.  I feel unconnected and unwanted and unworthy of human companionship, because that's what being untouched means.  And I need to touch as well.  I very much need to tell you that I value you as a member of my tribe and my community.  I need to press your hand or squeeze your shoulder or give you a hug, or even kiss your cheek.  I need to let you know that I have tenderness for you, that I love you in a way that has no motivation behind it.  I love you because you are part of my life and you add a richness to it that it wouldn't have if you were gone.

Dear readers, let me be tender with you, and be tender with me and each other, there is already so much harshness in the world, too many bad touches and pushing and shoving.  Let me love you just because you live with my words in your minds, even just for a few moments of the day.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your life, I don't think you know exactly how much it means to me.

I more or less agree with this review from Goodreads.  More book bloggers need to read and review this one, I was disappointed with the lack of reviews!

10 November 2010

Day 228: Grace

Grace by Elizabeth Scott.  ISBN: 9780525422068.

I really wonder what some of the reviewers on Goodreads and book blogs found appealing in this.  Grace was hardly a character at all, which is unfortunately since the "story" is told completely from her point of view.  I suppose one could argue that since her role in the community has always been as an outcast or to die for a cause that she never would have had a chance to develop, but Scott tries to push some aspects of character on her.

So anyway, blah blah blah, supposed to be a suicide bomber but inexplicably decides she wants to live after years of brainwashing.  Grace escapes, or is let go (there's no real sense of urgency), from The People who wanted her to die for their cause and hops a train out of the country where she sits for four days reflecting on her life and everything she was taught.  At some point she magically realizes that both The People she was fighting for and the totalitarian government she was fighting against were more or less the same thing.

Eh, let's go with the obvious here.

I have the benefit of living in a country where even at its worst I have had no desire to strap a bomb to myself, or anyone else, and blow stuff up.  Granted, if I ever want to travel via plane I will certainly be treated that way, maybe not as much as someone with swarthy skin and a Muslim name, but I sometimes get approached when I'm wearing one of my many Antioch College t-shirts.  As crazy as our governing system makes me, and as useless as I think our candidate options are, I don't have a desire to change the system so much as I wish we had more options.

But we do still have them, even if it does seem like choosing between Mounds and Almond Joy some days, and other days it feels like it's impossible to even tell the difference.  Suicide bombing is for people who are in desperate situations, who feel that this really is the only way to change things, that lives are only useful as a vehicle of destruction to overthrow the current regime.  That is a scary, scary place to live in.

And sadly I didn't see that in this novel.  It all felt so common place, and maybe that should have made it scarier, or maybe put me in a place to think, "If I were in Grace's shoes I might be used as a suicide bomber, too."  But I just don't think that's the case.  I don't think that is something that I could ever do.  I suppose that it's always possible that with the right amount of conditioning and circumstances and poor quality of life then maybe I would think differently.  I just can't imagine being so blasé at the thought of setting off a bomb that would kill myself, my target, and everyone surrounding me.  I think you really have to be born with a particular kind of mindset to be susceptible to that kind of reasoning.

Now, train me on a sniper riffle and give me a target and a good reason to pull the trigger and I might just be as dangerous as the CIA/FBI thinks I am with my liberal arts degree education, tendency to vote liberal, and history as a 4th generation Unitarian Universalist.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

09 November 2010

Day 227: The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.  ISBN: 9780375846731.

Some of the characters (I won't say who or why to avoid spoilers) visit the "suburb of the dead."  In this world, people can see their deaths and consider them companions.  They like having them close and always knowing that they are there.  This is obviously a strange and nearly abhorrent idea for most people in our world, since we spend so much of our lives not wanting to die.  But I think people like me can understand it.

For those of you who don't know, I suffer from a mild case of depression which gets kicked up to a less than mild case of depression during times of extreme stress (like being unemployed) or difficult times of the year (such as the anniversary of my room mate's death).  The truth is, I find a great deal of comfort in knowing that my death is nearby.  I also find comfort in knowing that I could easily reach out and grab its hand and just be done with it.  In fact, having that comfort is the only thing that keeps me going some days.  On particularly bad days I will say to myself, "Today is a bad day, and if tomorrow is a bad day and the day after that and the day after that is a bad day, I can have no more days."

Some of you who are shaking your head and saying the ever-so-popular "suicide is a permanent solution" line, I have something to say about that.  Sometimes death is the only solution and the only reason you say that line is because you do not fully understand what people with truly debilitating mental illness are going through.  Even as a mild sufferer there is always a looming worry that I will once again be caught up in a bout of depression, and there is always a fear that it will be deeper and darker and last longer than the one before it.

People who are unfortunate enough to have much more severe cases of depression than mine also have to worry about when their medical cocktails don't work anymore.  I am not talking about people who are on a small dose of Zoloft for their postpartum or because Dad passed away, I am talking about people who have to be medicated and have been medicated ever since they were diagnosed.  I think it is more difficult for them because, sure, they feel good now, but what about next year?  They know bad times are coming again and sometimes there's that urge to go out when you're on top of your game, when you feel good, knowing that you will at least die happy.

These are obviously things that I have thought about at my most depressed.  I don't regret continuing to live, but on some level I do wonder if maybe it would have been the right thing to do.  There are certainly people who care about me in this world, and I would feel bad about leaving them behind, but if it came to a point where I was in so much emotional anguish and pain that I could not stand it anymore and could not conceive a way out for myself, even with the support of my family and friends and doctors and medicine, I would hope that the people closest to me would have the compassion to forgive me and realize that it really was the only way out for me.

I am happy to say that I am not currently depressed.  My life is going pretty well and I'm doing creative things while job hunting.  In fact I try not to think about the job hunting part at all if I can help it, because not thinking about does help to some degree.  If you are concerned about me, please don't be, I have no intention of committing suicide and I doubt that I would be able to go through with it even if I did.  I am not currently medicated and I am about 95% sure that I am afflicted enough for it to actually be helpful.

I'm not advocating suicide.  Not at.  But I do think it is and should be recognized as a last option for people who have long term illnesses, and mental illness in most cases is a lifelong illness.  I think if we openly recognize it as an option, it will remove the stigma of saying, "I want to die and I need help so that I don't want to die."  Telling people that they are weak and taking the coward's way out for wanting to die, does the exact opposite of preventing deaths and does absolutely nothing to relieve the anguish associated with the disease. 

A fabulous summary of the book is over at Book Dweeb and a micro-review over at Books for Breakfast.
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