31 January 2011

Post 310: Scars

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. ISBN: 9781934813324.

There is a really great moment between Kendra and her therapist Carolyn when Kendra asks Carolyn why she didn't tell her she was a rape survivor. It's a good question for several reasons and a bad one for several others. The reason that Carolyn gives for not telling Kendra is that it was not a professional thing to do to give Kendra that information. This is correct on several levels. For one, it might impair Kendra's ability to focus on her own issues and how to move past them. However, Kendra brought up a good point that it might have helped her move past her own pain to know that someone she knew was a survivor of rape and was now a healthy and happy person. I'm going to tell you about some of my own experiences with survivor stories and how they have affected me.

I don't recall if it was every semester, or only every fall semester, but Antioch College regularly held Take Back the Night events. These ranged from the poignant and touching to the vaguely annoying for those of us trying to study (some events included going around at night through the dorms making lots of noise and chanting). One year I decided I would participate in any way I could. There was going to be an open mic night for people to tell their stories and several people I knew would be speaking. I wanted to go to support them. Little did I know that there would be so many people I knew, all with terrible, terrible stories. These were strong women and men, all of whom I admired greatly and who contributed to the community.

Their voices made me want to tell my own story. At first I didn't know how to start, in some ways I felt that my experience wasn't really a rape, but that is something that I think many people feel, especially those who are raped by people they know (that's most of them). Speaking out and telling people my story was one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. It hurt. It hurt more than the realization that this person who said he loved me never did and was manipulating me into doing things he knew I didn't want to do because I was young and inexperienced and would do it if he asked enough. And when I was done I felt better. I felt relief when no one came up to me and said, "that's not rape." In some ways it was a validation of my experiences, and that what happened to me was wrong even if I was not physically forced to do it.

When everyone was done speaking we were supposed to go on that Take Back the Night walk. I can't remember if I joined or not. I think I was still a bit in shock from the catharsis of telling my own story and the frustration of knowing that so many people I knew had been hurt in similar ways. The good news is that most of the people who spoke were happy individuals for the most part. It is hard not to let an event like that affect the rest of your life, but these people made their lives about more than their traumatic experience.

I don't think it is necessary for every rape survivor to tell their story in public. There is still stigma attached to the victim, which is sad and depressing. But if you are ready, and you want to tell your story so that people know that it can happen to anyone, there are places where you can tell it anonymously. And I would encourage everyone to remember that chances are they know someone who has been raped and to be open to receive that story if said person decides to tell you.

Great review from another reading Amy over at Amy Reads.
LibsNote: Received free copy from Sisters in Crime booth at ALA 2010.
If you're wondering why I didn't cover the obvious topics, it's because I've already posted about my personal experiences with cutting and (in my case, statutory,) rape.
Oh, um, if you saw a post for First Contact pop up in your reader yesterday, sorry about that, I hit publish too soon. The edited version will be on the blog in a couple of days.

30 January 2011

Post 309: One More Theory About Happiness

One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest. ISBN: 9780061685170.

I actually liked Guest's descriptions of finding poetry a lot better than his narrative about his disability. Call me strange, but I think he might actually have cleaner emotions and less conflict with that because he was able to write about it with a bit more clarity. Then again, maybe it's because I was able to identify with it a little better, having once considered myself a poet, but never having been paralyzed.

I especially liked the description Guest included when he "discovered" the poem Melancholia. He was reading the dictionary entry, which included the etymology, and initially read it as "black hole" when it was really "black bile." Although I don't write as much poetry as I used to, whenever I do pick up a pen it is usually under similar circumstances. I actually used to write two or three poems a day in high school because I was terribly bored with the lesson plans, which were often just a rehash of the textbook anyway. I kept a running list of titles in the back of my poetry notebook so that if I ever got stuck I could just flip to the back and use it as a kind of prompt.

My favorite poems though were the ones where lines and images seemed to come to me out of nowhere. Possibly one of my favorite poems that I wrote was for my undergraduate poetry class. Although it was for an assignment, I was going through a difficult break up at the time and I felt very detached and out of place. The relationship had been floundering for a while, but the end of it still hurt in a way I couldn't have imagined. So when the assignment came to write a poem using only imagery I had a flash of inspiration. I would write about the decline of my relationship and the oddness I felt associated with that. This is the poem I wrote:
"Let's Just Take a Break"
A flood gate opens.
Gallons of water
rush through a desert
that has its own forms of life.
Life that cannot possibly handle
this much water
emptying into
Caverns, Cliffs, and Gullies.
The land can’t absorb it all
fast enough.
So I am swept away
like an old canoe
the flood brought with it,
now sticking in the fork
of a blooming cactus.
There is no one to rescue
this vessel.
The canoe stays
Spines grow into
water-softened wood.
The flood recedes,
leaving a trail of green behind it,
and a canoe up in a cactus.

It is not an especially good poem, but I have always liked it for its simplicity. I like it because I did manage to capture the swell and overwhelming of emotions, the flood that I was feeling. And I did feel like my life was adrift. I didn't know what to do with myself half the time. I went through my day hoping it would be better than the last day, that I would cry less and hurt less and suddenly remember what it felt like to be happy.

I don't write poetry much anymore, partially because this blog has taken it's place, but also because I associate it with a very specific time in my life. I'm not really that person anymore, so I feel I need to use a new format to express myself.

Do you have a favorite poem or story that you've written? One that felt like it just came to you? Tell me about it.

A decent review can be found over at the Bookslut blog. I gave it two stars and a waffle (on Goodreads two stars is "it's okay".)
LibsNote: Free copy received from the publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

29 January 2011

Post 308: One More Theory About Happiness

One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest. ISBN: 9780061685170.

So...I never learned to ride a bike. Oh, I had one, but I never got past the training wheels stage. Part of this may have been my fear of falling. I have always been cautious about my footing and balance when hiking or even just walking down the street. I often hesitate before taking my first step, and sometimes this has actually caused more falls than it has prevented. This fear likely occurred because my awkward stage started earlier than most of my peers and lasted up until I was about twelve (when I stopped having huge growth spurts).

In any case, this did not bode well for me learning to ride a bike to begin with. The second factor was that my parents bought me a bike I would "grow into". It was not quite an adult bike, but it was definitely built for someone taller than my five-nearly-six-year old frame would allow. Sure, I was tall for my age, but the pedals were an awful long way away, and the ground was even further off. By the time I had grown into the bike I had already given up ever learning how to ride, mostly because I fell often, and when I fell someone was usually around to laugh at me... and it was usually my father.

In some ways I regret never having learned. On the other hand, I've surely avoided some pretty severe accident just by not putting myself on two precariously balanced wheels. While I may not have had an accident like Guest's that would have left me a quadriplegic, I may still have broken or fractured bones (I already had enough of those just walking...awkward phase was REALLY awkward), or even been hit by a car like my mother was.

I do think it's something I'd like to learn, but I'm not sure I'm really in a hurry. I've gotten through life pretty well without knowing how to ride a bike so far. Besides, America isn't really built for biking anyway. Maybe when gas goes up to $5/gallon and we start seeing more bikes on the road I'll be more inclined. People are just too careless, encased in their ton or so of car, for me to ever feel safe on something so fragile and spindly. I do sometimes wonder if I missed out on some social opportunities as a kid because I couldn't ride a bike. Then again, I don't recall ever being asked to go for a bike ride with anyone...

A decent review can be found over at the Bookslut blog. I gave it two stars and a waffle (on Goodreads two stars is "it's okay".)
LibsNote: Free copy received from the publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

28 January 2011

Post 307 Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt. ISBN: 9780316080026.

I've always appreciated people who look at things a little off kilter, so I was rather tickled when one of the characters decided that magic had to be something inexplicable that still followed some set of rules or logic. It makes sense really, to think that magic might have some basis in scientific principles, only it hasn't been figured out exactly how those principles work just yet.

Holt didn't really take this as far as he could have. For instance, the only magic we get to experience in this particular novel revolves around an object, although it is hinted that there are additional forms of magic related to the Professionals (a group of people who deal with magic items and potentially other things, but as I stated that was mostly hinted at). The concept did get me to thinking about magic in the Harry Potter world, mostly because despite there being a school of witchcraft and wizardry, no explanation of how magic exists is ever given.

I don't think this is an oversight on Rowling's part. And I don't think knowing would add anything to the story; in fact it might take away some of the, ah, uh, magic as it were. Still, I do find it interesting that there apparently haven't been any studies into the physics and biology and what-have-you of magic in that world. It would be like taking gravity and saying, "Well, I know it works so I don't need to know how it works." Maybe magic is magic for exactly that reason, but I can't imagine that no one in the Harry Potter universe hasn't been even a little curious. It seems to be that there ought to be some enterprising squibs especially who would very much want to know why his parents could do magic but he can't so much as float a feather.

I suppose the fact that there is an academia based around magic in the Harry Potter world makes it stand out from other worlds with magic. It seems most of the other fantasy novels are set in some far away time before science was really formalized and so of course no one has looked into exactly what happens on the molecular level when someone does magic. I do have one theory about the rules of magic though: should anyone come close enough to solving how magic works it will change. The mere fact that someone knows how it works more or less precludes it from being magic. I think we need the mystery and the unknown for it to really be considered magic in our minds, and once we figure it out, it gets relegated to the realms of technology.

Anyone else have any rules or theories about magic?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free digital copy provided by NetGalley.

27 January 2011

Post 306: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt. ISBN: 9780316080026.

Tom Holt's novel starts with a description of pigs as being long thinking animals. They are animals that have time to devote to deep thoughts because they can't read or write and of course they lack opposable thumbs. Of course most of the porcine intellect likely would have been used for foraging and survival in the wild, but I'm fully willing to believe that they are smart enough to observe and think about nature and deduce the laws of physics, etc. as they might pertain to being a pig. Pigs are not dumb animals, at least not compared to many of our other domesticated creatures.

I kind of envy them in some ways.

Pigs get taken care of and have nothing to worry about. Granted our current system doesn't treat them very well (at least in America) and so they likely spend most of their lives focused on the fact that their pens are too small, too dirty, and too crowded. But a well treated pig gets taken care of for life, however long that may be before reaching sausage weight, and so has time to think. I almost wonder what advances we would have in literature, art, philosophy, and science if we had people who just sat around and thought all day. What would happen if we raised people like we do animals, only not for meat, but for their thoughts. What if we just had a whole farm of thinkers?

Or better yet, what if everyone was able to be a thinker for a certain period in their lives?

Why should only professors get sabbatical? I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would be able to come up with brilliant solutions if only they didn't have so much to worry about. What if everyone after high school got three years to spend their time thinking about the problems of society and how to solve them? What better age is there for this "think time"? Most people don't know what they want to do directly out of high school, and having this think time set up for them might give them enough pause and reflection. Their brains are young enough to come up with some creative solutions that haven't been tried before, and maybe if they knew that the rest of the country was relying on their brain power in the near future rather than "someday" they wouldn't be so quick to fry brain cells.

I don't know about you, but I could have used some down time between high school and college. I was excited to start college and get away from Mississippi and my mother, but I think a dorm set up where people are allowed to hold conversations about their reflections on a daily basis might provide some really great resolutions. The rules of the dorm would be three hours of solitary reflection with no interference: no internet, no cell phone, no books. Just blank walls and your own brain, perhaps a journal to jot notes or sketch. Then two hours of communal reflection in which thoughts are shared. Next, another two hours to research, plan, prepare, or create viable thoughts, interested parties could work together especially if they're related to each other. Anything else is free time.

I often wondered why regular schooling chafed so much: The pen was too small. While I enjoyed the structure of the day, it didn't allow my mind to grow so much as my mind was forced into whatever shape the curriculum demanded. How different we would be as a species if we gave ourselves the luxury of thinking?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free digital copy provided by NetGalley.

26 January 2011

Post 305: The Other Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore by...well that's redundant. ISBN: 9780385528207.

There's a very telling moment when Other Wes Moore asks Author Wes Moore when he first felt like a man. Author gives a kind of generic response about responsibility to other people, but what is more important and telling were his thoughts and reflections after the prison visit ended.

"There was no official ceremony that brought my childhood to an end... But for some of us the promotion to adulthood, or at least its challenges, is so jarring, so sudden, that we enter into it unprepared and might be undone by it." Page 66.

I personally hate that we do not have an official age where we become adults. It seems to be different for every family and every individual. So while I was more or less a full-fledged adult at 22, living on my own and providing for myself, I know of other 22 year olds who rarely even set foot out of the parental home, much less have ambitions of leaving it permanently. I hate, hate, hate that I am currently living the way I am now and absolutely feel like a child who can't take care of herself. My mother has been very good about not making me feel too bad about it, but the fact remains that I am using her resources when I should rightfully be building up my own in preparation for my slow decline into old person-dom.

I really think it might be a good thing for this country if we just sat down and said, "At 16 you become an adult, no more do-overs, no more second chances." There a lot of 16 year olds out there who are capable of being treated like adults and should be treated like adults. Those are the people we are doing a disservice to because we lump them in with the 16 year olds who are getting drunk every weekend and acting like children. Perhaps if we expected our young people to behave like adults and act with a certain amount of decorum, they might actually start doing it.

Poitier is not amused.
The example I'm going to use is a movie starring Sidney Poitier (who is a cinematic god and should be treated as such). Poitier comes in to teach a bunch of hooligan kids and the first thing he says to them is, 'I'm going to call you by your proper titles, and I expect you to address me in a similar fashion. You are all young gentlemen and ladies now. I will treat you that way and you will act that way, towards me and each other.' And with that declaration the curriculum is literally thrown out the window (in the form of textbooks) and the children-now-adults are taught what they want to learn. Sidney Poitier is a badass like that, and you will be amused to know that he starred in a similar film called Blackboard Jungle as a young hooligan. Both films are amazing, and apparently still have something to teach us, because we don't never learn nothin'.

The question I would like to put to those who might object to this treatment of young persons as adults is, What harm would it really do to show young people the same respect you might show an adult? After all, these are kids who can hit things really well with a car drive. Either they are old enough to earn our respect and trust in driving a large vehicle or we ought to put them back on their bicycles and tell them to fuck off until they can enlist in the army and buy cigarettes or alcohol. By the way, that last thing is silly, a kid can kill himself slowly through consumerism or sign up to kill himself quickly through war, but he can't get ferschnockered before he goes. Nice job, USA.

And if we're going to take the car away we can go ahead and take away his crappy part time job which might very well be the only responsibility he has nowadays. Yeah, if he's not an adult there's no way he should be working around things like hot grease or cleaning chemicals. Those things are dangerous for children! And respect, god dammit, what use is there in respecting some snot-nosed kid behind a Burger King counter? It's not like that little shit will go off to college and end up being more successful than me someday. Might as well treat all those teenagers like dirt under my fingernails rather than as the young adults they are.

Now, to all the 16 year olds who are probably not reading this, please act like young adults. Please earn the right to be treated as young gentlemen and ladies. I think you will find life much more enjoyable and fulfilling in the long run if you do.

My review can be found on Goodreads. Also, there's an excellent interview from the Colbert Report.
LibsNote: Free copy received from the Firstreads Program on Goodreads.

25 January 2011

Post 304: The Other Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore by...well that's redundant. ISBN: 9780385528207.

 Although I've never come across another Amy Campbell in person, I know the chances of doing so are pretty high. Even using my middle initial I get pages of Amy Campbells from Facebook. Using my full name, Amy Leigh Campbell, I get about six results. This doesn't even cover the pages of results from Google where I'm unable to even differentiate between my dopple-namers. If you're wondering if I ever wonder what my namesharers are up to, you would be correct.

The name Amy L. Campbell has been quite the blessing and curse all at once. There's nothing about my name that shouts out and says, "Hey! Pick on me! I have a funny name!" It is an all out American name, a comfortable name, a name relatively unassociated with successes or failures. My name is about as boring as the can of overly salted soup it is printed on. And I like it that way. I have enjoyed the relative anonymity of being one of the hundreds or thousands of Amy Campbells floating through the internet and life in general. However, I sometimes wonder if maybe, just maybe, that anonymity has also cost me something.

Maybe those kids with the weird names actually have a leg up on me. Maybe the Prochaskas and the Yaggys and the Schupaks and the kids with first names like Moonbeam and Janezila have an unfair advantage. I mean, who is going to forget a name like Janezila Yaggy*? I have been wondering a lot recently if this especially comes in handy when committees are reviewing my curricula vitae. Oh sure, my credentials are pretty decent for someone just out of grad school, but who can remember that those credentials are attached to a bland name like Amy Campbell when there's a Mandela Cortez-Schupak who has roughly the same credentials and a name that will grab you by the throat and stare you down like the piece of steak you are?

This of course is all my self doubt and worrying over something that may not actually be happening, but I have to wonder. And what about all the Amy Campbells who have made a name of their name? There are some pretty big lawyers and doctors, and at one point I know there was even a cheerleader, who all share my name. If I ever become a famous writer of ridiculous Adult Cautionary Tales it pretty much ensures that the publishers will want me to use a pseudonym, or at the very least some alteration of my name. AL Campbell... nah. A. Leigh Campbell? Maybe. But the fact is, I still want my accomplishments attached to my name. This is yet another reason I have no desire to take on my future husband's name, although that's a slightly different topic.

I mean, I love the fact that I can type in my name in Google and only people who know me well can figure out exactly which Amy I am. But I also like that I can pretend for a brief moment to be another, different Amy Campbell. Maybe I didn't grow up with a deranged father and an irrationally violent brother. Maybe my mom stayed home all day and helped us with our homework. Maybe I'm not unemployed right now and I'm already married and I'm just so damned happy that all of my friends want to shoot me so I'll shut up already. Or maybe I'm that Amy Campbell that the world forgot, who became a name and then a fuzzy face barely remembered and finally a distant, aging memory and "who the hell was that I went to high school with?".

Which Amy Campbell do you think I am? Which one do you think I will become?

My review can be found on Goodreads. Also, there's an excellent interview from the Colbert Report.
LibsNote: Free copy received from the Firstreads Program on Goodreads.
*As far as I know this is a made up name. If there is a Janezila Yaggy out there, Hi! Feel free to comment.

24 January 2011

Post 303: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN: 9780061711527 (eBook).

I suppose most of you have probably guessed this by now, but I have never really identified much with the "girlie girl" stereotype. In fact, most people peg me as being masculine, and I've even been labeled dyke, queer, whatever. This is less true. I am most certainly a female; I even enjoy being a female and have no desire to be a male, I just have no desire to be shoved into dresses and to wear makeup even when I'm working out, or to only take certain jobs because those other jobs are "too manly" or "gross."

When I was a young girl I played with Barbies and wore a certain amount of pink and even played house. That last one sometimes made me uncomfortable because the way that little girls played house was very structured. I could pretty much be a mommy, or I could be the "weird" kid who played the daddy. Since my mother was the breadwinner and a more fully functioning human being than my father, I identified more with her, so I always wanted to be the one to go to work. My friends thought this was strange since it was typically the reverse in their household. I may have been more comfortable playing homemaker if my father's stints at home didn't mostly involve him sitting in his underwear, watching TV, and smoking. Had he added value to our home life, it would have been easier to accept a role in which I was not as active outside the pretend home, but still contributed to it.

As I grew older I was more falsely assigned the "tom boy" label and soon became stuck with that image. In some ways this was even less accurate than the girlie girl label. But I was more comfortable wearing that label than I was the girlie girl label and so I stopped playing house and I stopped wearing pink (I even hate wearing pink underwear and it angers me that the 10-packs often have 3 or 4 pairs) and I stopped playing Barbie, at least in public. Even though I did all these girlie things, they were never the focus of my play. I always gravitated more towards play that involved exploring my world or taking on some kind of power. I remember that fairies were big at the time because of FernGully. Even though Crysta was kind of a flake, she did end up as the most powerful fairy and the most influential member of her society once she took up Magi's mantle. I frequently played witch by mixing up various bits of leaves and dirt and bugs and chunks of hair into a metal bucket.

I think perhaps the reason I was misunderstood and mislabeled as a tom boy was because most of my play was solitary. This is especially true after we moved from California to Oklahoma sometime during 2nd grade. Perhaps if I hadn't started in the middle of a school year it would have been easier for the other children to accept and get to know me. Instead I had to make friends with children who already knew each other and had different ways of playing with each other than I was used to. So instead of diving headfirst into that play, I did what made me feel comfortable: I read during recess, sometimes I even did homework until the teachers took that away from me.

I don't believe that being smart was seen as a particularly boyish trait, but for some reason my reading material leaned more towards boyish. Maybe I was more entertained by the survival stories of Gary Paulsen or the wacky ghoulishness of Goosebumps (which were insanely popular during that time). I also really, really loved X-Men and began collecting cards and reading comic books. I loved it more for the stories than anything else, but there were certainly more strong female characters in comics than any other media at that time. I especially loved Storm, who was considered both a witch and a goddess and seemed to need no man. It was just more exciting than the "girl" fare offered by The Secret Garden and Heidi and Jane Eyre. I certainly read these books as well, but there was no particular danger involved and they were all so old. It was almost as if literature was saying, "girls have done things and had stories, but only a really long time ago, and even then they involved things like gardening, taking care of elderly people, and being a teacher." It wasn't so much that I looked down on those things, but all of them were covered in Little House on the Prairie and at that time I was using reading as a way of exploring different ways of living.

This trend did isolate me and though I loved "boy" things, it did not matter that I loved them for "girl" reasons. So all of my female friends turned out to be big readers like me, we didn't often play traditional "girl" games, and I also had at least one male friend who I spent more or less equal amounts of time with. It's not that I didn't want to be a girl, although it was interpreted that way by my peers, it's that I didn't want to be the kind of girl that was being modeled for me at that time. There wasn't quite an option I was comfortable identifying with and so I blended and tried on a variety of roles. I find it incredibly disappointing that not only is our definition of female still very narrow in this country, but that it appears to be shrinking as quickly as the waistlines on supermodels.

As I like to point out to most people, gender shouldn't even become a question of importance unless you plan on having intercourse with someone. Otherwise you have no need to know what kind of genitalia someone has. A man might very well like shopping and baking as much as a woman could like playing sports and carpentry. We do ourselves a disservice by focusing on male and female roles by limiting what is seen as "acceptable" by society.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free eGalley provided by NetGalley.

23 January 2011

Post 302: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN: 9780061711527 (eBook).

I've been watching a lot of 1980's nostalgia recently. Mostly this has consisted of She-Ra, the Rainbow Bright Movie, and classics like The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, Time Bandits, and quite a few others.  The desire to watch said movies probably stems from my recent birthday on the 15th, but also from reading this book.  It made me realize how great and progressive these movies/cartoons actually were.

In fact, I would say that in most cases the cartoons marketed towards girls in the 1980's and early 1990's are probably more progressive than the cartoons of today. I will admit that I don't watch a whole lot of the current cartoons, but most of the "girl" cartoons are covered in pink and seem to consist of very few themes (princess, ballerina, etc.), or so it seems anyway. Even though there weren't very many females present in the cartoons of my day, in some ways I think that actually made it easier to identify with a character of my choice, regardless of whether that character was male or female. Rather than choosing a character based on gender I felt more free to choose one based on how well I identified. 

So, even though there was a token female in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series that I sometimes had no choice but to watch (my brother was very good about getting to the remote and keeping it), I had nothing in common with her. She was constantly getting kidnapped because she was being a "nosy" reporter and getting into situations she shouldn't have been in to begin with. At least that's the way the cartoon framed it. Instead I identified more with Donatello, who was the archetypal "smart" guy. 

Another cartoon we spent a lot of time watching was Scooby Doo, which did actually have a fairly even number of male to female characters, although I don't recall there being a whole lot of female villains. Even though Daphne is sort of an airhead, at least it was presented as an option rather than as the only role one could take. Granted it may have sent the message that you can either be "frumpy" and smart or hip and dumb, but I never really saw it that way, and Velma was at least cute in a nerdy sort of way.

Meanwhile the cartoons targeted more or less specifically towards girls tended to have animals rather than humans. We had My Little Pony, Popples, Carebears (in which most of the characters were male animals), and a few others. But at least every member contributed equally in those series and worked together cooperatively. Probably the biggest success in the 1980's girl power realm was She-Ra. She-Ra was badass, and I'm going to tell you why.

First of all, She-Ra started off as a "villain." She was originally a force captain in Horack's army. So already we have her in a leadership position and it allows that women have the option of being good or evil. Although in the She-Ra universe it does indicate that because Adora was brought up by Horack she was merely evil by nurture rather than nature. This and the other decidedly "evil" female characters were a big step for women as it expanded the roles of females outside of the typical scheming stepmother or the angelic heroine. Horack is actually the leader of the Horde on Etheria and Skeletor was his apprentice.  This means that theoretically She-Ra has the more competent villain, and yet she is constantly walking in and out of his dungeons more or less at will. 

Meanwhile, anytime He-Man shows up in She-Ra's world he does so either to ask his sister for help or he gets asked to join on She-Ra's adventures more or less because he just happens to be there. Very rarely does She-Ra actually seek out He-Man's help, mostly because they are in separate worlds and She-Ra has a very important leadership position, whereas He-Man is too busy playing Prince in his alternate identity.

In addition to having the better/"badder" villain, She-Ra also has more diverse powers. Where He-Man can only turn his outfit from a sassy pink and purple number to fuzzy brown underwear and gains super strength, She-Ra seems to gain an almost endless number of powers. Among the powers she gains are super speed, which apparently sometimes works as super strength (she can lift tanker-sized ships out of the water), and talking to animals, and her sword can apparently turn into almost anything, which is more often than not hilarious. I think this speaks well to She-Ra's adaptability, planning, and intelligence, because it requires her to think about the best method of saving the world rather than just punching robots or smashing doors. It even seems that the writers approve of this method, because more often than not it is She-Ra saving He-Man's ass because he's a big dumb hulk of a man and decided to go Leeroy Jenkins on the situation rather than sitting down and figuring out the best way of getting to the top of the tower.

So, uh, what cartoons do girls have now? Is there anything out there like this for them? Or are we stuck with being princesses and ballerinas or at best an explorer who needs every single "danger" pointed out, preferably in Spanish? Seriously, I just looked up an episode online, a weasel is driving, and as they're going down the road every character is looking at the "camera" waiting for you to tell them to watch out. I think I almost prefer the Sesame Street I grew up with, which only had male monsters.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free eGalley provided by NetGalley.

22 January 2011

Post 301: a general update

So...some of you may have noticed I didn't blog about The Eden Hunter by Skip Horack.  Yeah, um, there wasn't a whole lot for me to say about it.  I mean, I could have come up with something to talk about, but it all would have been very incidental and I just couldn't work myself up to.  I did manage to write a review about it, so here's the link to that.  I also think Kirkus Reviews did a fabulous write-up of it, but then they usually do.
PS: Dear Kirkus, I have a literary crush on you, please ask me to write for you.  Pleasepleasepleaseplease.

Anyway, here's what I have planned for the next batch.  Let me know if you've read any of these before, and maybe linky to your reviews?  If I end up agreeing with or liking them they'll get linked in my post (and also I won't have to write reviews for non-galleys and can just focus on the Reflections instead).  Also, I'm still looking to add guest bloggers, contact me if interested, I may even be interested in adding a Regular guest blogger, so...  Yeah.  Um, let's see, I'm still working through my stack of ALA 2010 books and Forgotten Bookmark wins.  We'll say that it's a New Year's resolution to finish that stack (there's about 50 or so books in total).  I'll be mixing them up with Netgalley stuff, library eBooks, regular library books, galleys from Goodreads, and whatever else I find.  This will probably be another year in which I spend less than $20 on books for myself (not counting the $25.00 B&N gift card I received for Christmas... hmm...).

Abrupt Transition!

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield.
An ALA 2010 grab.  This one is signed because I actually met the author at the Sisters in Crime booth.  Many of you know I am not a huge fan of mystery novels, but I think it's a really cool idea to have a group of women mystery writers.  I passed along the very nice lapel pin to my mother-in-law who is a female mystery writer and aficionado.  She will probably get this lovely hardback when I'm done.  This novel involves a lot of heavy material such as sexual abuse, cutting, possible lesbian relationships (the blurb hints), parental "I don't see any problem"-ness, and what sounds like some post traumatic stress.  You're likely to see some equally heavy-toned posts on that one.

One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest.
Another ALA 2010 grab, but this one I was actually really excited to get a hold of because I believe I'd heard of it on NPR already.  I liked the cover, with nothing but the title slapped onto it, a bit askew, the author's name at the bottom and barely hanging on.  What can I say, I like cover art.  I'm also a sucker for memoirs about people who have been damaged (physically or psychologically) and have learned to look at life with humor and/or grace.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.
This one is from NetGalley.  Orenstein is terrified when her daughter begins to pick up princesses and pink and wonders what it's doing to her daughter's psyche and future development.  I don't plan on having kids, but this kind of thing fascinates me, particularly in terms of "pink" and "princesses".  Plus the title is awesome.  I like to pretend that good titles are indicative of good writing.  I'm not always right.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt.
NetGalley again.  Holt is apparently an absurdist.  I love absurdity in writing.  I love Pratchett and Douglas and I even liked the absurdness in Smallworld.  And once again, folks, the title.  Who doesn't wish to pursue sausage like happiness?  There's not a whole lot of summary about this one, so I have almost no idea what I'm getting myself into.  Whee!  Adventures!

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.
I saw this on the Colbert Report and so was extra pleased to see I managed to snag the copy offered up in a Goodreads giveaway.  As someone who has many, many, many dopple-namers I think this will be an interesting read for me.

What are you reading, oh favorite Readerdom of mine?  Anything you think I should add to my list?

21 January 2011

Post 300: Myself (interview)

I know you don't really care about learning more about me, but I thought I would share this interview between my editor (Dan Walker) and myself.  This took place over AIM on January 6, 2010.  If you're not interested in learning more about me, feel free to skip it, regular posting resumes tomorrow.  If there are additional questions you wish to ask, I will be happy to answer them in the comment section.  Interview edited for spelling errors, flow, and clarity.

Dan Walker: I just want to start off by asking you to introduce yourself to us. We already know a lot about you from reading your blog, but this needs some kind of a beginning. Maybe this post is someone's first
time here or something, who knows.
LibsLIB: My name is Amy Campbell, I've lived all over the country between my mother being in the Air Force and then attending Antioch College where I participated in the co-op program.  My family was and continues to be fairly dysfunctional whenever we're in the same room together, but we seem to function pretty well separately.  I have a background in history and received my Masters degree in Library Science in August
2009 from Kent State University, where I met my fiance who is a constant pain in my ass and the light of my life.

DW: Why did you decide to start blogging, and to start this blog in particular?
LibsLIB: I started the blog up in March 2010. By that time I had already been unemployed for about seven months and I felt this might be a good distraction for me.  At the very least it would get me more involved
in professional development in the form of reader's advisory, which among other things is a librarian or other informed person making reading recommendations.  The idea for this particular blog had actually been floating around in my head for several years.  I've always related reading to my personal life and how it can enrich it or trigger memories or deepen my thinking about certain topics.  I was curious to see if other people did this as well, or if it would improve their reading experiences if they started to do this.

So I began by sharing my personal reading experiences and thoughts with reading and seeing if anyone was interested in sharing their own, or at least listening to mine.

DW: Is there anything in particular in your background, personal or professional, that you think gives you unique insight into the subject of books and reading?
LibsLIB: Well, everyone brings their own particular insight to reading, from what they choose to read in the first place to what it makes them feel or think about, and that can change from moment to moment based on when and where they read the book.  I think given my lifelong experiences as a reader, a historian, and a librarian I may be able to put literature into a more involved context than someone who has less experience in these backgrounds, but then their insights may be more thoughtful just because it's the first time they've been exposed to a certain reading experience or concept.  It's really a matter of personal taste and opinion, which is why I like having guest bloggers to give a different view point every now and then.

DW: Tell me about your guest bloggers: Who are they? Where did you find them? How important are their posts to you, and to your project?
LibsLIB: At the moment my guest bloggers mostly consist of family and friends. There's Dan Walker who is my future husband and also my editor, although he sometimes lets things slip.  You get what you pay for I guess.  He and I almost never agree on literature, so it's interesting to see some of his reflections.  He prefers to write under a pseudonym, while some of my other guest bloggers just use initials.

That gets us to Kyle B.  Kyle is actually a mutual friend, with a background in journalism, which I thought would work well with the personal essay nature of the blog.

Then there's Dayna Ingram, who I met at Antioch College during my undergraduate program.  She's actually gone on to become a writer and so it's great to get that perspective.  She mostly works in fiction and has a couple of self-published novels.  I love her posts because they are usually off the wall and we have a similar sense of humor.

Marybeth Cieplinski is also a writer and mutual friend of my fiance's.  Although Marybeth's background is mostly in fan-fiction (X-Files), she also has some really unique insights, being a person who has gained much wisdom in her years of child rearing.  I like that I'm able to get her perspective as a mother, writer, and as
a non-traditional student.  It's hard to express how proud and happy I am for her for receiving her Bachelor's degree just this year.

DW: Sounds like a great bunch of people! So let's talk blog content.  You read a lot of children's and YA fiction, it seems. Tell us about that.  Do you find it odd at all?
LibsLIB: I wouldn't say I read a lot of it.  I think if you look back over my blog I read a pretty eclectic bunch of books.  I certainly don't find it at all odd.  I think a lot of people still enjoy stories from their childhood and are trying to capture the feel of it, not to mention there are just some great stories being written for children and YA.  I know when I was growing up we didn't have nearly as many choices in
literature as we do now.  If adults are benefiting from this as well I see absolutely nothing wrong with it, but then I think everyone should read anything and everything they can get their hands on.

DW: You certainly do read a broad variety of books. Would you think of yourself as young at heart, or fun loving? I only ask because of the occasional toilet humor, and here I am referring specifically to Pooping on Mars.
LibsLIB: Probably more fun loving than young at heart.  I like to think of myself as a curmudgeonly old lady in training.  You have to understand I was raised on Looney Toons and Mel Brooks, that's going to make for
a strange sense of humor.

DW: Sorry, that picture just made an impression on me. "Fun loving" fits, I think. You also talk a lot about the darker side of things, I notice. I recall a mention or two about your soul being black, for instance.
LibsLIB: That goes more with my twisted sense of humor.  I can't remember that particular reference, but whenever people ask me how I take my coffee, my response is usually, "Black like my soul."  I just think it's funny and it usually takes people back a bit before they realize I'm having them on.  In the meantime, watching their faces as they figure out what to do gives me an inner sense of glee.

DW: Haha! So what about zombies and vampires? You apparently like both, and you've griped about vampires a lot, especially in regards to Twilight. Do the supernatural monster genres hold a special place in your life?
LibsLIB: Not so much the monsters themselves as the recognizable bits of humanity within the monsters.  It's not what's different that makes them so scary, it's what makes them like us, because if they can be monsters and feel things like lust (Dracula), loneliness (Frankenstein), etc. then what kind of monsterlike behavior are we capable of?  With zombies it's a bit more direct because we have a deeply embedded distaste for the dead because...well, they're just not sanitary to be around.  The idea of a dead corpse walking around and mucking up the air alone ought to scare the bejesus out of a sane person.  Having them bite you on top of that?  I wouldn't even want a living person biting me.

DW: And when they start sparkling, you get angry.
LibsLIB: I'm actually not so angry about the sparkling.  It's stupid and it's silly and it's a bastardization of the genre, but when it comes down to it, I have a problem with the romanticizing of dangerous relationships.  These are not the kinds of relationships we want young people to idealize and set as their standards for romantic love, because they will either never be achieved or if they are it will be with someone who is controlling, moody, and "mysterious."  To me mysterious is just another word for not knowing anything about the person you plan to spend forever with.  I don't see how that can possibly be a positive thing to teach our young people.  Besides, Count Chocula is more intimidating than the sparkly freaks Meyer

DW: He is also more delicious. If I may extrapolate, you're concerned about the effects of media on young people.
LibsLIB: I am, especially since this used to be a genre in which we have some really strong female role models.  Buffy the Vampire slayer is the obvious front runner here, but then you also have fantasy and
sci-fi writers who were making real progress in producing headstrong females who were also allowed to have love lives and be good role models, and I feel [Twilight] just threw us back into the dark ages.
It's like the revival of the "get back in the kitchen" joke, except it's not really much of a joke is it?

DW: Just for reference, can you give another example of good female role models in fantasy or sci-fi?
LibsLIB: More recently I'd say Katniss from the Hunger Games Trilogy.  Despite all the bull-hockey about Team Peeta/Team Gale, which was all fan-frenzy anyway, Katniss all along said, "No, not with the world the way it is now.  Marriage means children and I won't have my children subjected to the Hunger Games." For this reason I very much wanted everyone who was excited about who Katniss would end up with in the third book to omg shut the hell up. But even Mina Harker was a stronger character than Bella Swan, Harker at least had her own personality and started to explore her sexuality in relation to her strange attraction to Dracula.  Another example is Lauren Olamina from my favorite book Parable of the Sower.  Her world is falling apart around her and she seems to be the only one to recognize it.  Her parents tell her not to go around scaring people, so instead she begins to prepare for the inevitable.  Although she can't save everyone because they have their heads in the sand, she is able to save herself and some others, and rebuilds a community based on the principle that everyone has a special skill set or knowledge to

DW: It's just a shame that these characters aren't in the million-selling, movie-making series.
LibsLIB: I wouldn't be surprised to see the Hunger Games turned into movies, but honestly I'm okay with keeping them in literature where they can tell us their story directly rather than having it focused through the
lens of what would likely be a male director.

DW: Let's switch gears. Rupert the Magical Pony. Tell us about him.
LibsLIB: Rupert is a magical pony and he lives in a magical pony field and he goes on magical pony adventures and it usually ends poorly for him.

DW: How'd you come up with him, and I mean him specifically? Why a magical pony, why such a tendency to die at the end of the stories?
LibsLIB: Ponies are kind of naturally ridiculous: they have all the looks of a horse, which is a majestic and useful animal, but somehow when it got translated to a pony it's just kinda like, "Yeah...what are we gonna
do about you?"  As far as his actual creation it took a lot of watching of bad movies and 80's cartoons.  And I like to think his tendency to die is kind of mocking writers who "drop bombs" as the ending of their stories.  Also, killing magical ponies is hilarious.

DW: I can't argue with the results. What, aside from death, is Rupert's future?
LibsLIB: I have no idea.  I've gotten really good responses to it.  I'd like to see Rupert stories published or maybe turned into a season long TV show.  The stories I worked on during NaNoWriMo still have a lot of
work that need to be done before I'd even consider sending them to an agent.  I'm not even sure I could find someone willing to publish them, which is a shame because I think Rupert has a lot to teach us.

DW: We can all learn a lot from a cheerfully oblivious talking pony. I wanted to wind down with a big question: Where, in your opinion, does your blog fit in with the rest of the literary blogosphere?
LibsLIB: It doesn't really.  It's kind of the ugly baby.  But I don't think there's anything wrong with having a blog dedicated to self-reflection in reading and I think it will makes us all more thoughtful and
intelligent and open to new ideas.

DW: If you weren't blogging, what would you be doing?
LibsLIB: I'd still probably be reading a lot.  As it is I watch a lot of movies on Netflix, so I'd probably do more of that.  Mostly I'd be doing much of the same things I'm doing now; I would just be more miserable
because I would feel less productive about it.  I mean, it's great having an audience and I love getting feedback, but to be honest I keep the blog because I like doing it.

DW: I think that's what's most important. Where do you see yourself and your blog in the next few years?
LibsLIB: I will probably drop the daily format at some point.  I can't reasonably keep up with that.  I imagine it will depend on what kind of job I have and how much time I have to read.  I'm trying not to look too far into the future because right now it's like a big empty blank space and I have no idea how to fill it.  There are really just too many uncertainties for me to answer that question.

DW: Well, I think we all wish you the best. Any last words you'd like to say to your readers?
LibsLIB: That is a terrible closer, and I'm sorry my fiance/editor/interviewer is such a tool.  But otherwise, keep reading.

[Editor's note: I am not a tool.]

20 January 2011

Post 299: Marybeth Cieplinski (guest blogger)

At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  ISBN: 9780767919388 (ARC - published October 5, 2010).

I always wanted to own an old house, even after seeing all the work my dad put into their last one here. It was fun putting up wallpaper, painting, fixing broken pipes. Even bailing icy snow-melt from the basement has charm when you're not the one footing the bill and dealing with the damage. I really should have listened to that old saying -- be careful what you wish for.

The house we bought in 1991 was probably built in the 1880s. According to an elderly neighbor, who was born next door, various parts of the house were built with stolen wood from the lumber yard that was across the street. Having gotten a glimpse inside the walls, I wouldn't bet against it. We live in what is often called a "shotgun house" because a gunman would have a straight line of sight from the back door to the front of the house. The kitchen is the oldest part of the house, with handmade bead-board cabinets that are very similar to the ones in my parents' last house. Those cabinets only fit into one place in the kitchen, obviously built for that spot, so when ductwork was added to send heat upstairs, the cabinets ended up on the enclosed back porch/laundry room, where they reside at this moment. My Dad just happened to be visiting from Florida while we were in the process of getting a loan, so we took him on a tour of our potential new home. While I was enthralled by the paneled crook at the side of the stairs – images of a twinkling Christmas tree there danced through my head – I think Dad was simply appalled. I'm sure he could see the amount of work needed to make it livable, and keep it that way. The stair landing felt spongy when we stepped on it. Termites: in the landing, the two-story wall next to it, and the window that got stranded in mid-wall when the attic floor was knocked out to put in a staircase for bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Heat was provided by a massive, cast iron gas furnace that had been converted from coal use. The gravity-feed heat system wasted an appalling amount of our money without giving much in the way of warmth, especially to the second floor. The downstairs room off the dining area we euphemistically called the "sewing room" although it was supposed to be a bedroom. Even twenty years ago, the sizing paper over the plaster walls and ceiling was peeling. It hasn't gotten any better and parts of the ceiling came down a few years ago. We screwed drywall scraps over the exposed lath and crossed our fingers that it wouldn't spread. The idea of using it as a full-time bedroom is currently out of the question. In retrospect, we should have sold the house when the kitchen ceiling fell down.

I fell in love with the size of the kitchen. Almost fifteen feet square, there was plenty of room to cook, which we often did as a family. The dining table was situated between the sink and a hutch used for storage. We replaced the pale green 1930s gas stove and refrigerator with modern versions, but the plug for the fridge was inconveniently located on the opposite side of the room, making a too-large work triangle. Odds and ends of furniture (rearranged frequently) held the microwave, pots, and non-perishable foods. Three doors (including one to the side yard next to the sink) and three windows left little space and made positioning the bits of furniture a challenge, but we managed. I frequently wished we could remodel and make things more convenient but we never talked about it seriously. Until the ceiling fell down. There had always been a wrinkled bit of wallpaper in the corner over the fridge, so when the kids said the ceiling was sagging, I dismissed it. A couple weeks later, it was obvious that they were right. My husband decided to screw some slabs of drywall over the sagging section to keep it in place until we could deal with it. The next day, I removed my collection of Depression glass vases from the top of the fridge and the hutch next to it. After supper, my husband set up a ladder and went to get the drill and some drywall screws. Before he could return, there was a sharp ripping noise, and a third of the plaster on the kitchen ceiling came down on top of the fridge, hutch and ladder. We took it as a sign that we should remodel, but there are times when I think we would have been better off selling.

Ironically, my parents' old house went up for sale two years ago. It seemed like a good omen, even though I knew we probably couldn't afford the more-expensive mortgage. Still, I agonized over the possibilities. A lot. Ultimately, we never were able to connect with the realtor for a visit, so maybe that was a sign too. Sometimes I wish we'd looked into buying that house a little harder. More often I'm glad we didn't. I lived in that house for long enough to know what its issues are and I'm sure they haven't improved over the past thirty years either. Then again, there are times when I think I might have enjoyed finding out.

Marybeth Cieplinski is what colleges euphemistically call a "non-traditional student," meaning she's next to older than dirt and just finished her BA in December.  Her immediate plans are to panic while attempting to finish her grad school admissions portfolio by the Feb 1 deadline.  Future plans are subject to change depending on when she gets out of bed in the morning.  She loves to write about almost anything but doesn't know when to stop.

LibsNote: The guest blogger borrowed the book from me, and I received it from the publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

19 January 2011

Post 298: Marybeth Cieplinski (guest blogger)

At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  ISBN: 9780767919388 (ARC - published October 5, 2010).

I read small sections of Bill Bryson's At Home propped up in bed before going to sleep, carefully held out of food range while eating meals, in doctors' waiting rooms, while waiting for my college classes to start, and in the bathroom. It's a big book. It's also crammed with so much information I could only read for so long before I had to put it down in order to absorb everything. The bibliography by itself is twenty-five pages! So much information gave me a lot to think about, but mostly it made me look at my own house, and the houses I grew up with, in a different way.

My parents' first house was a three-bedroom ranch that eventually held six people. We had to share the bedrooms and there was only one bathroom, making for cramped quarters. Dad eventually had to build a large family room (with a half bath attached) so we'd have somewhere to play without being underfoot He also built a bar-type counter so we would have more space to eat since there really wasn't a dining room. Within days, my mother had put a series of dents in the surface by trying to crack a jumbo jawbreaker for us. I often wonder if those dents, and the bar itself, are still there.

We only lived in the next house for eighteen months. My parents bought it because Dad had transferred to a new office and this particular house fit our immediate needs. It wasn't any bigger than the last one, though, and it had what is euphemistically called a "postage stamp" yard. If there was more than ten feet of grass on any side of that house I'd be amazed.

Dad hated the short, steeply sloping driveway that was impossible to keep clean in the winter, as well as the challenge of mowing the corresponding hill in the front yard. Mom hated the driveway, the neighborhood, the yard, and the house itself in no particular order. The short galley kitchen was also the entrance to the garage, and the water tasted like rotten eggs. The sunken family room came with a tank of guppies. Mom liked having complimentary fish until she personally experienced the reproductive proclivities of guppies. We left two tanks full for the new owners when we moved out.

My younger sister and I shared a room where we had to sit on the end of the bed in order to open the dresser's drawers. Mom insisted that the twelve foot cathedral ceiling deserved a Christmas tree to fit the space. She forgot we didn't own enough lights, garland or ornaments to decorate such a monster, so we only decorated the most visible area, zigzagging the lights and garland like a picture in a coloring book. Mom was thrilled when we moved, especially after all twelve of the mice in my older brother's science fair project escaped into the laundry room. We recaptured all of them, but it took a month and I don't think she ever viewed the house the same way again.

After that, my family moved to a huge house. Well, it seemed huge to me: three bedrooms with nice-sized closets, two full baths, a big family room with a small attached laundry room, and a dining room big enough for a trestle table and eight chairs. The kitchen had floor-to-ceiling bead-board cabinets and plenty of space to move around. There was an enclosed, finished back porch off the kitchen that eventually became a much larger laundry room. A small open porch off the family room was perfect for enjoying pleasant evenings, until the bats came out of the rafters and chased us inside. The living room had a full-length bay window that was echoed in the bedroom I shared with my sister. We got the largest, to make up for the previous shoebox. It held both a double and twin bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers and dresser, and eventually at least a hundred wind chimes from my sister's vacations cruises. I loved that room.

The house had been moved from the center of town, a mile down the street, a few years before my parents bought it. The neighbors said they thought it was full of water because the glass in the downstairs windows was blue tinted. Mom did some research over the years and discovered that it was built in 1854 and had originally been a general store. The full-wall bookcase in the living was the store's front window, and the living room doorway was the door into the store itself. Over the years rooms were added on until, by the time it was moved, the trees along the road had to be severely trimmed to let it pass. When the house was lowered onto the new foundation, they found the basement rafters were pointing the same way as the floor joists, instead of at right angles. There was nothing to support the joists, so everything buckled and sagged. None of the floors were ever level again. One of our dogs quickly learned that she could drop a ball at the kitchen end of the dining room and chase it toward the living room. Liquids spilled at the dining table were best mopped up by going to the other end of the room and following the flow back to the source. The basement walls leaked like a fountain -- literally. I never got tired of going to the basement when it rained so I could watch jets of water shoot from the walls.

I lived in that house for seven years (not counting the two when my husband and I had to move back in with the family), and every time I flipped the light switch in my bedroom, there was an audible tinkling of broken plaster falling inside the wall. Bats made occasional forays into the house, thanks to gaps in the plaster between the roof rafters and the walls. One year, a hive of bees took up residence in Mom and Dad's bedroom wall. The humming was loud enough to interfere with television viewing or listening to the radio. The yard was a good two acres: maybe my parents' attempt to make up for the previous postage stamp. I often think fondly about that house. When my parents moved to Florida five years after I got married, I would gladly have bought the house myself if it had been possible.

Marybeth Cieplinski is what colleges euphemistically call a "non-traditional student," meaning she's next to older than dirt and just finished her BA in December.  Her immediate plans are to panic while attempting to finish her grad school admissions portfolio by the Feb 1 deadline.  Future plans are subject to change depending on when she gets out of bed in the morning.  She loves to write about almost anything but doesn't know when to stop.

LibsNote: The guest blogger borrowed the book from me, and I received it from the publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

18 January 2011

Post 297: A Blue So Dark

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler.  ISBN: 9780738719269.

Caution: There's going to be a very minor spoiler about a very minor character and Aura's reaction with said character.  If you don't like any kind of spoiler whatsoever... I would like to know why you read book blogs.  So please watch this (not my video), and then leave a comment about it, here or there or wherever instead of continuing to read this post.

Okay, now that those people are gone I can talk about Angela "the Freak" Frieson.  Angela is a pretty minor character, having only two or three scenes in which she makes an "actual" appearance, but Aura likes to throw her in at odd moments because Frieson is (from Aura's viewpoint) obsessed with dissection.  Thiiiiiiis is not so much the case, but Aura is 15 and is overlooking the fact that everyone, even someone as close to her as her best friend, might be have problems they're dealing with.  And so Aura, instead of taking a step back and looking at the problem from someone else's viewpoint, decides to label Frieson as a freak because Aura's problems are more home-centric and probably because teenagers seem to love a pecking order and more specifically love not being at the bottom of it.  It's a very teenage response to things as roles and pecking orders are useful to teenagers in determining where they would like to fit in in life, or life as they perceive it.

Unfortunately, despite all of Aura's growth as a character from the "I'm the only one who has problems" phase to the "okay, other people have problems" growing up stage, she doesn't include Frieson in this growth.  Maybe it's asking too much of a just-turned-16-year-old to apply lessons they learned in one area of their life (i.e. my best friend who is a teenage mother got kicked out of her house and the father left and won't help support the kid) and maybe apply that to another area of her life (i.e. in theory Frieson may be "freaking" out because her parents are redneck trash who have wasted grandma's college fund on beer and Nascar tickets so she has to excel in order to get into Harvard so she can get far, far away and never look back).  Frieson actually seems like a fairly stable and reasonable character if you look at it from a not-Aura standpoint.  Aura has been skipping a lot of school and she and Frieson are lab partners.  So while Frieson has been doing all of the work, she's concerned that Aura is going to drag down her grades or otherwise inhibit her potential to excel.  This. is. understandable.

What is unfortunate is that young people who put that much stress on academic success are still seen as "freaks."  We're all about our young people excelling at sports, even to the point of almost being proud when we learn the star quarterback in high school has had three concussions and is still playing.  Meanwhile the person who wants to be the State Math Champion gets funny looks and a "why the hell would you want to do that?" response.  Everyone has different talents and those talents should be celebrated and encouraged; it is sad that certain abilities get placed higher in society than others.  It is especially saddening to see academic pursuits placed lower than athletics in what is supposedly a learning institution.

So to the Angela Friesons out there, I understand.  You will do great things.  They may not be what you planned, but at least you will never become a dull and boring person, because you have your own minds.  A mind that is developed and honed is something you will cherish in the long run.  You will be able to think yourself into fits of hilarity, moments of profundity, and states of joy.  For all that it is, the mind usually lasts much longer than the body, especially when you don't go ramming it into some 300 pound linebacker on the other team.

My review can be found on Goodreads, and despite my complaints I ended up not hating this book. 
LibsNote: Free copy received from publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

17 January 2011

Post 296: A Blue So Dark

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler.  ISBN: 9780738719269.

Sigh.  Let's talk about appropriate use of metaphors and simile shall we?  There is a right and a wrong way of using them.  They are a tool, and like any tool you have to select the right one for the job.  If you keep using a hammer, all you're going to be able to do is hold two pieces of something together with a nail or pry them apart again.  This will only get you so far in building your narrative.  Then again, there are many different kinds of hammers and the correct hammer should be selected.  You wouldn't use a mallet to drive home a point only meant to hang a picture; if you did that you'd end up with a hole in your wall.  Let's hope that wall wasn't load bearing, shall we?

Here is an example of a perhaps not so great selection of hammer,
"Just like it always happens when he's anywhere near me, my eyes are on strings tied to his wrists."  Page 16.
This is not necessarily a wrong choice, but how many of you saw something like this:
Note: picture from Etsy shop
 Yeah... This was not the intended effect.  It was like Schindler using that fix-all hammer when what she really needed was a screwdriver.  We know what she meant, that Aura's gaze was drawn to this other character for some reason, but the whole puppet/eye connection did not come across very well.  This is something that needs a little more clarity if she wants to still make this connection; otherwise, she should really use a different tool and forget the metaphor altogether.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for strange metaphor/simile.  I mean, who can forget my classic post on Packing for Mars in which I liken floating space poop to a friendly brown dolphin (not my fiance, that's for sure)?  But there has to be some follow through.  You can't just drop a metaphor and hope that everyone gets it, sometimes it needs some polish.  And if you were thinking that was another poop reference...you're probably right.  Let's take a look at something else shall we?

"Across the lot, I see Janny, alone, arms across her chest.  And I walk up to her, a smile plastered on my cheeks like a clown's grin." Page 95.  

I was going to use some photoshop here, but honestly I got a little creeped out by all the clown stuff.  Not to mention, I think we all pretty much thought of the same picture.  I understand not wanting to use the same old words to describe putting a fake smile on your face, but replacing a word or two is not exactly the best option here.  Instead of a generic simile, or better yet an actual description of the action Aura is performing, we get a surreal acid trip-like image that doesn't really work and frankly is borderline frightening.  I don't know about you, but I would run away from someone with clown-grin plastered cheeks too.

So I say to all of you writers and writerlings, please rethink your use of metaphors and simile.  Editors, don't allow your authors to use them like salt and pepper when they really ought to be used more as chilies (just enough for flavor, please). Let your author throw tantrums about the oppressiveness of Editing, let them whine about how it's like seeing their children chopped up into little pieces; in the end it's better than producing something like those two previously mentioned phrases on the page to be critiqued by schmucks like me as inadequate usage of the English language.  Hold yourselves and these artists accountable for the quality of their work; don't give a passing grade just because the attempt was good.  If they want to be professionals they should be treated like professionals and not high school students who "did their best."

My review can be found on Goodreads, and despite my complaints I ended up not hating this book. 
LibsNote: Free copy received from publisher's booth at ALA 2010.  Oh, if you enjoy awkward word choice analysis and things of a simile (haha) nature, check out Reasoning With Vampires which goes through the works of Stephenie Meyers page-by-page, that poor, poor soul.

16 January 2011

Post: 295: The Diviner's Tale

The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow.
ISBN: 9780547382630 (Uncorrected Proof - publishes Jan. 20, 2011).

Ah, there are moments that remind me why I started this blog, bits and pieces of literature that reach out from the page and smack me in the face and say, "Yes, this happens." It's a small thing really, but Cassandra and I share some past history. After Cass's brother dies her mother goes into a pretty deep depression and in order to get her mother's attention, Cass often resorts to calling her mother by her first name. Eventually this just becomes habit and continues into adulthood. Well, I can relate to that.  My father suffers from pretty severe Depression: that's Depression with a capital D. He gets so depressed he occasionally cannot function as a human being. He is a scary person when this happens.

The first time he went through a Depression was in the mid-90's. We were in Oklahoma at that time and he was actually institutionalized over Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I was about 10 at the time and no longer remember which holiday it was, just that it was miserable and no one had a good time that year. It was also around this time I first started calling him by his first name. Part of this was probably me testing the boundaries of the child-parent relationship, as well as first recognizing that my parents even had other names besides "mom" and "dad". At this time, I only used it to annoy my father, who had started calling me fat among other things.

I thought surely my own father couldn't think so little of me, that he wouldn't want to hurt me and was calling me these names only in jest. It wasn't until my parents finalized their divorce about five years later and Christmases and birthdays went by without so much as a card or a phone call I began to realize that he really did mean them. He may have thought he was being a good parent by providing me with "motivation" to lose weight, but really all it did was make me feel even more unwelcome in my own home than I already felt. By the time we moved and left him on Guam, I was glad we were leaving him behind. My mother was miserable for a while, but I noticed an immediate improvement in our actual quality of life, at least until my brother's behavior started going downhill.

With years between any contact, it just became natural to call my father by his first name. It also made the relationship less hurtful. It was easier to accept that some man who had been living with us for 13 years had called me all those names, had "loved" me, and was now gone and wanted nothing more to do with me. If he wanted so much to opt out of the role of a father, as it seemed he did at the time, then it only made sense to revoke the title as well. He still isn't much of a dad, and so to this day I am more likely to refer to him by his first name.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free copy received from publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

15 January 2011

Post: 294: The Diviner's Tale

The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow.
ISBN: 9780547382630 (Uncorrected Proof - publishes Jan. 20, 2011).

One of the things that Cassandra struggles with in this novel is whether or not to teach her sons the art of divining.  According to Morrow's work, divination requires an innate ability and is more likely to be present in those with parents who have it.  I think this is a very good question that Cassandra brings up, not only for herself, but for any parent working in a trade which might be seen as undesirable or weird by the community.

Since I can't answer this question for other people, I think I'll play the "if I have children" game.  If I have children I don't think I would want them to pursue a career like Cassandra's.  This has less to do with how I feel about it personally, and more of how my children would be perceived by the surrounding community.  For this same reason I wouldn't want my children to be fat or ugly or too tall or too short or too whatever is "unacceptable" in society at the time, because life is already too hard that I wouldn't want them to have to cope with everyone else's perceptions of them on top of everything else.  It shouldn't matter, but it does, and it's awfully hard to grow up into a normal and healthy person when people are saying things about your worth.  If you're lucky, they'll only say it behind your back and you'll never know.

On the other hand, some people are just drawn to naturally dangerous or "undesirable" jobs and there is nothing wrong with that.  I think if my future kid had a strong desire to be a tarot card reader I might pull them aside and say, "Look, there's a lot of people who don't believe in this kind of thing and will think that you're wacky," but in the long run I would still provide them with the tarot cards and maybe even take them to get their cards read.  Of course, this is much easier when I don't have an actual potential being who I will otherwise have to take care of for an indefinite period of time if they don't get some kind of viable career.

But why do we stop telling our kids they can be anything they want to be?  Why at the age of 12 was it okay for me to want to be a writer when at the age of 14 my mom was pushing me towards more "practical" career goals?  Why did my mother think a history degree was a more desirable fate for me than a certification in massage therapy?  I can almost guarantee you I would have my own business now if I had gotten that certificate.  Either our kids can be anything they want to be, or else we need to stop lying to them about that and start showing them the potential consequences of their choices.  You want to be a ballerina?  Okay, fine, here's what their day is like and they usually retire before the age of 45 because their bodies are ruined.  Still want to be a ballerina?  Good deal, let's make that happen and no you can't skip your lesson to go to Emily's birthday party.

Who knows, maybe our society would be better off with assigned jobs and roles.  Maybe it wouldn't be as horrible as depicted in dystopian novels.  Maybe we would all accept our roles and flourish in them.  Then again this is probably just the hopelessness in me talking, wanting someone to take control of my life and give me something to do.  Readers, how would you feel about your kids taking up the (dowsing) rod or another career looked on with contempt?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free copy received from publisher's booth at ALA 2010.

14 January 2011

Post 293: Untimely Guest

Untimely Guest by Marian Babson.  ISBN: 9780312011031.

There was actually a little bit of interesting conversation that went on when the characters weren't too busy whining about their house guests, being pregnant all the time, and how much of a bat Mam is.  One of the conversations that got me thinking the most was about how if the Church hadn't left science behind, they might have been able to incorporate the miracle of science and relief of physical suffering with the miracles of Jesus and the relief of spiritual suffering.  I'll go ahead and give a direct quote:

"Scientific advances mean nothing to [the Catholic Church] except a threat.  They don't see the advancement of knowledge as any part of God's mercy, only as some new kind of work of the devil."  Page 275.

In this instance the woman speaking was mostly referring to the advent of birth control, especially when the life of the mother is in danger or might be put in danger.  But what if we applied these principles to numerous other applications?  Maybe science wouldn't be as cold and blind to the very miracles of the currently unexplained.  Maybe there would be more of a press to recognize that the spiritual does have a place in the workings of science and man as much as chemical interactions and cell structure.  Then again, maybe the church would realize that in order to ease the suffering of the soul, it might be necessary to eliminate the disease of the body, even by using stem cells.  Or that maybe it is okay for women to have smaller families if it means bringing up healthier children who they might then actually have time to raise instead of wondering if the next one is going to kill them on the way into the world.

It is mind boggling that there are things about science that are more compassionate than religion and things about religion that are more callous than science.  But then any time money gets involved in either of those things it is easier to ignore the principles of brotherhood and charity.  I think Colbert actually says it best: "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't do that."  In other words, I don't think Jesus would mind us butting into the territory of performing miracles if it meant saving or greatly improving the lives of millions of people.  The idea that a religious organization might have a problem with this bothers me as much as the idea of selling drugs at highly marked up cost to profit from the dying and diseased.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: I won this from a Forgotten Bookmarks contest.

13 January 2011

Post 292: Untimely Guest

Untimely Guest by Marian Babson.  ISBN: 9780312011031.

In this book, Bridie is forced out of her convent by changes in the Catholic Church in the 1970's and into the home of her brother Kevin and sister-in-law Eleanor, who happens to be a Protestant.  Throughout pretty much the entire novel Eleanor and her entire immediate family are constantly worried about how long Bridie will be staying with them and how much she will disrupt their lives.  While I can understand their concern, I imagine having your convent closed and being forced to re-enter the secular world is probably a lot more distressing than anything that Bridie can and did do as a house guest (well, other than things said during the numerous family fights, but that's a different situation).

The truth is that Bridie was never really treated as a welcome guest and was extended no sort of compassion whatsoever.  Rather than Eleanor stopping to think about what it might mean to Bridie to have this big, encompassing, and unexpected life change and realizing that Bridie might need some time to get through the shock and grieve, she just assumes that Bridie will act like a normal person who is simply visiting relatives.  Because of this, even despite Bridie's "odd" and somewhat presumptuous behavior (she cleaned Eleanor's kitchen for example), I actually sympathized more with Bridie the "intruder" than Eleanor the "intruded upon."

I almost wonder how much of this awkwardness could have been avoided if Eleanor had simply left Bridie alone until Bridie was comfortable enough to socialize on her own terms.  If she was truly to be treated as a family member in the household, then this is what would have happened naturally.  Instead because she was treated as a guest and interloper, Eleanor was constantly trying to foist niceties upon someone who didn't want them.  Eleanor is not only put off by this, but shocked when Bridie actually tries to do anything to cope with her new surroundings, including removing all decorative touches to her guest room.  Had Eleanor been as compassionate and thoughtful as she was supposedly presented to us I think she might have been able to put herself in Bridie's shoes and understood that Bridie was merely trying to regain some kind of control over her surroundings at a time when she felt she had none.  Not to mention, Eleanor would have respected Bridie's privacy and wouldn't have snooped in the first place, regardless of whether or not it was her own home.

On the other hand, most of Bridie's behavior might have been avoided if clear rules had been set up before she arrived.  Bridie, coming from a strict order of nuns, might actually have coped better if she had household rules to follow rather than going from a highly disciplined daily schedule to complete chaos.  At the very least Eleanor and Kevin needed to get their acts together and figure out that they were not responsible for Bridie's behavior and to stop blaming each other or trying to get the other to go talk to her about it.  If it was bothering them both, they should have approach Bridie together and talked as three adults about what they could do to make Bridie feel more comfortable and what Bridie could do in turn to be a better guest.

This may seem a bit upfront and rude, but when taking in long term guests, becoming a room mate, or entering into any other kind of potentially stressful living situation, it is much preferable to everyone trying to tiptoe around while still managing to make each other miserable.  If people aren't willing to change their daily habits, etc., it then becomes much easier for one party to say, "Okay, well thanks for giving me a shot, can I stay for a couple of days while I figure out alternate arrangements?"  Readers, have you had any bad house guests who have stayed with you for an indeterminate amount of time?  What was your solution to the problem?  Did you just wait it out?  How did that work for you?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: I won this from a Forgotten Bookmarks contest.
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