Friday, July 21, 2017

Library Ban Update

via Stewart Butterfield on Flickr
Mortals, I am on a library ban.

This is a new experience for me. Usually I always have at least one book checked out from the library. Most of the time I depend on it for new material. But not this summer.

I have many, many unread physical books in my possession. My goal neither encompasses the whole of what I want to read nor the restrictions of a “summer goal,” but my general purpose is to read eighty of my unread books before breaking my ban.

Current Status: 30/80 books read

So, I’m working on it.

If you were wondering what it is like to read lots of books you’ve been putting off because they sound boring, here are some thoughts I’ve had.

“Boring” is an inexact term. Sure, some have been boring—but it would be more specific to say that I’ve outgrown them, I was unimpressed by the attitudes, styles, and insinuations in them, or I required stories of greater substance. I guess this is my way of saying I’ve read several books beneath my dignity this month.

It is good to have rewards. I’ve mostly been sticking to my library ban, but every ten books I set up a reward for myself. When I finish that small goal, I check out an issue of the Star Trek comic book series from the library. And a deeply enjoyable reward it is, believe me.

It is still okay to DNF. I do want to give my books the chance to be read (why own them otherwise?), but I try not to get hung up on my “Eighty Total” goal. I have more than eighty books to read, and I’ve been rereading some books on my shelves just because. Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy The Outsiders? Anyway, if some books get thrown into the “donate” pile before I’ve reached the last page, it’s no crying shame.

Getting stuck with books I’ve been putting off does have its challenges, but don’t think I’ve been having a miserable summer, either! I’ve loved reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels by a Professor, both of which are by Thomas C. Foster. He’s like a funny invisible English professor who heaps you with reading recommendations—I am only 10% sad that I have added probably 40 books to my TBR on his account.

Other good reads have included The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I am hardly being tortured when I have great titles like these at my fingertips. Here’s to hoping the rest of the books I read will be satisfying, too!

How often do you visit your library?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Praise of Eve Baird

When I’ve mentioned The Librarians in other posts, people seem interested, but apparently have not seen this show. I want to share one good reason you should watch The Librarians. It is called Eve Baird.

Colonel Baird is The Guardian, which means she defends and even mentors Librarians. She is the reason I decided to watch this show. That’s cuz:

She’s a leader | Eve is an experienced NATO counter-terrorism agent; she leads missions and accomplishes goals like a boss.

She keeps her cool | Eve performs calmness admirably. This matters because unexpected magical things can be quite stressful, but she never lets the unexpected get in the way of solving problems.

She’s on the ball | Side note: Flynn is the Librarian, he has three movies telling his own stories, and he has more degrees than I have fingers. Yet from the moment Eve and Flynn meet, she can keep up with him, thinking fast, solving puzzles, and saving the day.

She’s encouraging | Eve may not be the cuddliest woman, but she notices her team’s emotional state, and she always gives them the words they need to hear in their most dire moments.

She stays real | Eve isn’t skeptical, per se, but she doesn’t accept the magical world as “normal.” She keeps one foot on the ground—a useful (and amusing!) tether for viewers.

She challenges the unknown | Facing magic is scary, often because the Librarians-in-Training don’t know what they’re up against until they’re up against it. Despite this, Eve takes everything in stride, and her systematic, organized line of thought provides order amid the mysteries.

She makes sacrifices | Part of being The Guardian means that Eve must be willing to sacrifice her own life for those she protects. Beyond the life-threatening events, though, she also sacrifices everything from her career to her privacy for her people.

She’s a builder | Amid magic that is fluid and unreal, Eve still finds a place to stand and create something. Her relationships, her successes, and her goals make her legacy as The Guardian an indelible thread in the lives of those who love her.

Did I mention she’s The Freaking Guardian?! | Eve is so cool! She fights things and tells people what to do and goes on a road trips with Santa and Moriarty and punches Morgan Le Fay in the face and jumps off buildings and everything! She’s amazing!

I love Eve, but Jenkins—one of the Library’s caretakers—is my favorite character. Jenkins can be prickly, but I also love the friendship he builds with Eve over the course of the series. He reminds Eve that she is neither a glorified bodyguard nor a perfunctory fixture at the Library. There’s a special reason the Library chose her, too, and Eve shouldn’t undervalue her own role in the cosmos. Which is about the nicest thing I can imagine a cantankerous guy like him saying. He’s adorable.

Have you seen The Librarians? What TV shows are you watching?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Scooby-Doo, Why Do I Watch You?

I’m bringing up Scooby-Doo today, on account of I have watched eighteen Scooby-Doo movies since December 2016. It takes up enough of my time that I thought it worth reflecting on.

Here’s the big question: Why watch Scooby-Doo?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself many a time. In fact, if you ever have the misfortune to watch Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, you will probably spend the second half of the movie seriously contemplating a premature end to the whole affair.

Nonetheless, Scooby-Doo draws me. Here are a few reasons why.

It’s funny. This is probably the easiest way to get me to watch anything, whether it is Scooby-Doo, Fight Club, or Night Court. The recent Scooby-Doo films are playful and almost self-aware. Fred believes that everyone runs into as many monsters as the gang; it would be too much of a coincidence otherwise (Stage Fright). Shaggy justifies not packing for a week-long trip because they always wear the same clothes (Wrestlemania Mystery). Scooby-Doo is an old enough franchise that there is not just a pattern, but room to make fun of that pattern moving forward.

I can study change. Scooby-Doo has received several redesigns and new series. Each iteration brings something different to the table. The first season of The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show cut Fred and Velma’s characters; now it’s rare to see the gang apart (Scrappy excepted). Most films end with a human culprit, but in others, the supernatural situations are real. In one series, the gang is in middle school (A Pup Named Scooby-Doo). In the late nineties, the humans are in their post-college lives. The interplay between fact, freedom, and friendship varies with every show. It’s fascinating.

Variety creates conflict. The different portrayals of Scooby-Doo also reflect different values. I mean, diversity has never been a big deal on Scooby-Doo, but sometimes they’re more willing to play with gender. Scooby and Shaggy are always cowards—never a really “masculine” trait—but they also confront their fears and save the day by dressing in drag to gain entrance to a party (Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King). In the films sponsored by WWE, though, Shaggy and Scooby tend to have an almost childish fascination with wrestling and racecars, which also results in a fascination with the more masculine moral and social codes that an organization like WWE might promote. Different films prioritize different character traits, and so it is interesting to see where characters diverge from the patterns—if they do at all!

I keep an irrational hope when I watch Scooby-Doo. It certainly has its problems, but I also see where they could surpass those issues. Maybe someday Daphne will not ditch Velma every time a wealthy, “empowered” woman comes along. I hope Velma receives well-rounded interests and more respect. I hope someone recognizes in the future that dinosaurs could literally not be encapsulated in quartz. Anything’s possible, I suppose.

At any rate, there’s enough humor and change to keep me interested. I hope there’s more to come.

My favorite Scooby-Doo films are Music of the Vampire, Big Top Scooby Doo, and Stage Fright. Have you watched any Scooby-Doo movies?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer "School"

A spot of al fresco dining
via Ryan Vaarsi on Flickr

Summer is a good time for things. I am not bored because I am busy. I listen to podcasts and read books and go outside and watch movies and fold laundry and work and all those things.

Do I miss being in school? Yes, yes I do.

Not all the time. I don’t miss homework. But I do miss getting to learn and discuss new and interesting things every day. Which is not to say that I am not learning, but there’s something good about being at school that I do not have friend now. So, this is what I have done instead of be at school:

watched some of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix :: I don’t want to watch past my reading, but I am very impressed by this series. It’s like an English major’s fairy tale come to life. Lemony Snicket is my hero.

reread How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster :: this book was crucial in my understanding how to think about books. I also annotated this book, so it turns out that this is also the book that resulted in me learning the word “phallic.”

read Star Trek: Doctor’s Orders by Diane Duane :: admittedly, this is mostly me soaking up the Star Trek universe. To be fair, I watched Star Trek instead of doing homework all the time last semester! Also, this book deals with linguistics, and my best friend is going to study those! So I bugged her about what she knows.

watched (and waited for) The Librarians :: this is another show that should shine in the hearts of booklovers everywhere. Who does not love seeing Prospero, Frankenstein, and Dorian Grey reapplied to a modern setting? And the third season is not at my library yet.

read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison :: and Sula, and Playing in the Dark. I was in a Morrison class last semester, so this, in some ways, felt like a continuation of my studies. On the other hand, it was largely a pleasure read, but that’s okay! I can always go back (and believe me, I will).

watched The Crucible :: I don’t know if y’all had to read Arthur Miller’s play in high school, but I sure did. I definitely didn’t appreciate it at the time, but seeing it now makes me understand why so many teachers gushed about that book.

read Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon :: this might be the best book I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the origins of the feminist movement or Frankenstein, but also if you like good stories and incredibly human people. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley were fascinating, folks.

What are you doing to keep yourself busy this summer?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I Like Friends Who Read

via on Flickr
Five Reasons Why My Best Friend is Awesome:
  1. she is very smart and whimsical
  2. she knows things I don’t, like linguistics
  3. she will go see Captain Underpants with me
  4. one time we boiled an orange
  5. we always talk about BOOKS (or TV)
It’s fair to say that my best friend and I became best friends because we had similar bookish interests. (I mean, it also required a willingness to make significant emotional investments and maintain our core values, but let’s not get technical.) She liked Harry Potter; I liked Harry Potter. She liked Percy Jackson; I liked Percy Jackson. She liked Ranger’s Apprentice; I forgot she lent me the first two books and awkwardly found them five months later.

Friendship, to say the least, is magic.

Elizabeth and I still love reading and discussing books together, and it helps to have a friend with similar reading interests. It helps to have one good friend who approaches conversations about Twilight like a serious person, and not like a person who makes a secret list of reasons why I (might) have bad taste. It is good to have someone who has similar reservations about the newest YA book on the street (Labyrinth Lost, in our case), and who admires Carswell Thorne, and who is a slut for Shakespeare (her words, not mine).

This is not to say we always read the same things—someone, by which I mean me, just bought an armful of Star Trek books, and that’s going to be a solitary march for that person. And I have not read Watership Down, which apparently is so good she'd name her kids after the characters. Still, our interests align enough that we enjoy a profitable overlap in our literary intrigues. According to Goodreads our interests are 82% similar, whatever that means.

We don’t even hate books the other likes… that I can remember. One may like what the other dislikes, but never to an extreme. The only example I can think of is The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I really like it; she does really not. And we disagree on Shakespeare plays. King Lear is her favorite play. Which is great, because King Lear is legit. I’m not going to betray my convictions by suggesting it’s not. However, Macbeth is where it’s at. So. Sucks to suck.

Overall, though, we get along in our reading lives about as well as we do in our external ones. It’s good. I don’t know if I can imagine having a best friend who doesn’t like reading. Having a friend who likes to read enlivens discussions and provides an emotional outlet.

I am fortunate to have found her.

Do you and your friends have similar reading interests?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How Do You Keep Your TBR Under Control?

ray bans
via Cherry Darlin' on Flickr
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a reader in possession of unread books must be in want of more books.

I don’t know why we are like this. It doesn’t make sense for us to be like this. We readers will have 378 books we want to read, and then say something silly like, “You know what I need? Twenty-six more books in my arms this instant.”

To be a reader is to be Sisyphus pushing the Hydra up a mountain—for every book we finish, two more spring up in its place.

Thus, I understand people’s motivation when they embark on personal book bans. I am most familiar with the book buying ban, in which you do not spend any money on books, on account of books are quite expensive and tend to pile up around your house.

I get that, and I applaud those who stick to that ban, because I imagine it is hard. In my own experience, I do not buy books as often as all that, so I’ve never felt the need to put intense limits on my book spending.

However, I am finding that my TBR is truly becoming outrageous and unmanageable, so I can see myself partaking in a few book bans in the next few months:

a library-book ban—it is always nice to get the new and shiny library books, but since last summer I’ve obtained a great many books. Unlike library books, they have nowhere to go back to. I’m thinking I’ll go on a library book ban for the rest of the summer (current holds and checkouts excepted) so I can catch up on my own unread books. I need to get my personal library in order.

a paper-book ban—I am fond of eBooks, which is no secret. The thing about eBooks, though, is that no matter how many I obtain, they take up the same amount of space in my room. This is great in terms of clutter, but in terms of getting those books read, it gives me no physical eyesore to challenge. I can see myself going on a paper-book ban once school starts (not counting my homework, of course!).

an owned-book ban—once I get my personal library under control, I want to get my digital TBR under control, too. At this minute, I have 253 books on my TBR spreadsheet, and that does not count most of the things I’ve taken a fancy to on Goodreads. I could legitimately see myself making 2018 about solely reading things I do not own, just to get those lists back down to size again.

Keeping on top of a TBR is hard work, man. But you knew that already. Still, I’m curious to see whether I can stick to these bans—I’m hoping they’ll make a difference. The stability of my room depends on it!

Have you ever enacted a personal book ban?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Do You Read Nonfiction?

Gocce di pioggia sui vetri
via photographer Mia Felicita Bertelli on Flickr
As we enter the season of mid-year reflections, I want to think about nonfiction. I didn’t expect I’d like to read nonfiction—as a kid, my awareness of nonfiction led me to believe it was all just books on finance and health. Neither of those things interest me much.

Since entering college, though, I’ve found that reading nonfiction can be just as rewarding an experience as reading fiction. In the year of 2017, a little more than a fourth of my reading has been nonfiction. Some of that is my school reading, of course, but more than two-thirds of the nonfiction I read, I read for fun. Odd, huh?

Other fun facts: I’ve read 29 nonfiction books so far this year. Thirteen of those books (45%) were about women’s and gender issues. Nine of those books (31%) were memoirs from people in the entertainment industry. And five of those books (17%) were about race in America. Obviously, I am slacking on my race books, but I still have time to fix that.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few book bundles to describe the most interesting nonfiction I’ve read as of late.

via Goodreads
The Feminism Books: Faithfully Feminist by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair, Amy Levin; Virgin: The Untold Story by Hanne Blank; Missoula by Jon Krakauer

It’s a little difficult to highlight the similarities between these books. Faithfully Feminist contains a wide range of memoirs and reflections from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women, and it is pretty fantastic, man. Virgin might be the most interesting nonfiction I’ve read ever. Did you know there’s no medical definition of virginity? And Missoula is a case study of rape cases in a college town. It is depressing and angering. I guess you could say I ordered these books by the amount of joy they brought me, greatest to least.

via Goodreads
The Race Books: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison; The Crunk Feminist Collection by Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, Robin M. Boylorn

These are not necessarily fun books, but they’re all important. The New Jim Crow deals with this as Alexander examines American prison systems; Coates delivers a more personal reflection on criminalization. Playing in the Dark discusses race in literature (#Englishmajor). And The Crunk Feminist Collection is also great: it is a compilation of blog posts that discuss social issues and personal experiences. It was informative, funny, and insightful—I feel like I got a lot out of it, even though I am not in its intended audience.

via Goodreads
The Star Trek Books: Star Trek Memories by William Shatner, Beyond Uhura by Nichelle Nichols, I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy

The other entertainment memoirs didn’t fit together as well as these ones did. These are not the highest literature to be had, but I did like getting to look at the lives and careers of these actors—especially Nimoy and Nichols. Did you know Nichelle Nichols was kidnapped and abandoned in the woods one time? Bruh. Also, Nichols throws some shade at Shatner in her book (with some justification, methinks). It makes me wonder what it’s like to be so famous that you conduct all your disagreements via memoir.

There you go: ten good books. Or, if they are not always joyous, ten important books. And here’s to finding ten more by the end of the year.

Have you read any good nonfiction books lately?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Virtue Ethics in Twilight

via Rolf Brecher on Flickr
I liked learning about virtue ethics in my high school philosophy class—I connected it to Twilight by Stephenie Meyer right away.

If you’ve never encountered Nicomachean Ethics, here’s a quick overview. A person is moral because they are virtuous, cultivating excellence in certain qualities or behaviors, avoiding both deficiency or excess. Everyone always uses courage as an example. Courage is a virtue, but too little makes you a coward, and too much makes you reckless. That sort of thing. (If you’re still confused, Spark Notes does better than I did.)

Twilight and virtue ethics just mesh. I credit this to the way in which Meyer constructs her vampires. Some vampires are reborn with superpowers (Edward reads minds, Alice sees the future, etc.), but some are not. All vampires, however, seem to regenerate with a dominant personality trait. It’s interesting to consider a vampire’s behavior based on whether they keep that trait in balance or not. These are my estimates for the Cullen family:

Click to Enlarge
I admire the Cullens for their virtues. Carlisle is among my all-time favorite characters because of his compassion. And it might be a little creepy that Edward can read minds, but I’ve always appreciated that this school compliments a gentlemanly perceptiveness, and doesn’t use his skills to humiliate or hurt others (except maybe in the case of Jacob).

Still, both characters’ actions result in negligence and hurt, too. Carlisle’s compassion makes him feel and seek to resolve Edward’s loneliness. When Bella arrives, Carlisle is so pleased that he condones Edward and Bella’s relationship despite its problematic elements. In my opinion, Edward moves past his abusive behavior by the end of Breaking Dawn—but that doesn’t excuse any of Edward’s actions beforehand. I hold Carlisle culpable as a bystander. As an authority figure attuned to others’ pain, Carlisle could have gone a long way in encouraging Edward to approach his relationship as a person instead of a vampire. Instead, he prioritized Edward’s pain over Bella’s, and his willingness to excuse his son’s actions shows how Carlisle has an excess where his son is involved.

Edward is the reverse—I see him as deficient of perception. On the one hand, Edward stays ignorant of Bella’s thoughts and wishes, even when she states them out loud. His willful disregard enables him to underestimate her, assume that leaving her will cause no long-term damage, and dismiss her ideas. He approaches Bella in the wrong way… But he approaches himself the wrong way, too.

For all his faults, Edward knows Bella is good. She is determined, loyal, and intelligent, and Edward attributes Bella’s positive traits to her humanity. This is why he fears changing her. As a vampire, her determination, loyalty, and intelligence would serve her bloodlust, rather than her family or community. Edward is likewise ignorant of any goodness in himself: he sees his body, mind, and abilities as tools of destruction that he has merely repurposed. He cannot fathom that he, a vampire, could be good, no strings attached. I don’t know if this series could have ended without Bella becoming a vampire. Until Edward sees that Bella maintains her goodness, he cannot perceive his own goodness, either.

As a final side note, virtue ethics is a fun lens for Twilight because it shows how the vampire couples complete one another outright. Edward gets into people’s minds and Bella keeps people out of them. Rosalie’s inner strength matches Emmett’s outer strength. Jasper looks into what is, and Alice into what will be. And Carlisle and Esme are a bundle of love and forgiveness, man.

Virtue ethics doesn’t help me explain or understand the books better, per se, but it gives me a construct with which to build my thoughts. And I love talking about Twilight, so there’s that.

Have you read a book where virtue ethics might reveal something about the characters?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Series of Series

via Martijn van Exel on Flickr
I loved reading series when I was younger. Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Ranger’s Apprentice, Artemis Fowl, Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones… looking back, there were quite a few. I loved reading about magical white children, apparently.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost touch with series—in some ways. Book series are not as common with me anymore. I have plans to reread from the Cycle of Inheritance and Twilight Saga this summer. That will be fun. But they will be exceptions to the more common standalones. This is absolutely true in the case of my college texts, since literary novels tend not to be series. Some folks like William Faulkner or Joseph Heller can interweave their texts or write companion novels, but I don’t end up reading them. (And I know in some cases, I choose not to read companion texts because I know I will not enjoy them as much as the first books.)

I also read with more variety nowadays. I seek out more nonfiction, more contemporary fiction, and more literary fiction than before. This is not to say that I like YA fiction, for example, any less, but there are obvious publishing differences. I just finished The Vegetarian by Han Kang—great story, very eerie and intriguing. It was first published as three short stories, but they have since been compiled into one novel. The Vegetarian started out as a series, but now it reads more like a chapter book. Then again, many adult books are written as series—Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books number forty-one, I believe.

Then again, it’s also prudent to point out that while I don’t read serialized novels, series do pop up in other ways. I enjoy comics and graphic novels quite a bit: Saga, Star Trek, and Lumberjanes have all brought me some joy in the past few months. (Also, deep and biting sadness, but let’s not name any names here.) TV shows are also serialized by nature. I’ve been watching Star Trek (TOS), The Librarians, Bones, and Night Court, and they are great. I love having a story broken up with complex storylines in this format.

But, back to books. I hadn’t spent any time with a series since last November, but in my hunt for good audiobooks to listen to, I returned to The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. This series is better than I remembered—dark fairy tales that stop to teach you the meaning of dramatic irony and the moral of WWI. It’s funny, interesting, and well-read. It’s good to get back into a series of novels, and I look forward to more. I’m curious to see what else there is to try.

Have you enjoyed any series lately?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

I'm Back!

Jack in the Box
via gadgetdude on Flickr

I’m back!

As you, diligent reader, may have noticed, my last post was in March. Like, two months ago. It turns out that writing is hard when you are working a junior-level course load in college.

During my unannounced break, I realized a few things, which I have compiled here in a convenient and travel-sized list (not that you keep my blog posts in your wallet):

(a) I started this blog to encourage my writing practice.
(b) I no longer wish to be a writer.
(c) Writing during the school year is not feasible for me.

Number B has been my most interesting realization. I’ve leaned towards a professional writing career in some fashion since eighth grade, and been preparing for and educating myself about such a career since 2013.

Four years later, though, I realize, “I do not want to do that at all.”

Of course, as a voracious reader and person-who-still-writes-things-because-that’s-what-they-make-you-do-when-you’re-an-English-major, I still have a tremendous respect for writers and don’t regret learning about writing. It is a great career for some people, but I do not think it would be good for me.

To circle back to Number C, I have some practical applications in mind for this change.

(d) Sometimes I’m a Story shall end.

Now, hold on. It would be cruel and confusing to tell you I’m back, only to announce that this is my last post. Do not worry. This is not the last post.

It always bothered me to see blogs just STOP with no formal ending, just leaving people to wonder. Will the blogger return? What if she comes back next week? What if she’s DEAD? And I now realize why one might bring an abrupt end to her blog—but I do not want that for this particular blog.

Instead, I intend to blog once a week through the end of the summer. It shall be my chance to catch up on ideas I wanted to post, but never got around to. I will also get back to returning comments, visiting blogs, and so forth. And then, when the time comes, there shall be an official end.

Zero mysteriousness.

The end, though, is months away, and I’d rather end on a joyous note. Allow me to share a few books I loved over the last two months. Go read them and have happy times.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas—This book is amazing. I’m still struck by Starr’s voice and the way it compels you through the story. It is an important, relevant story about police violence against black Americans, but the way it interweaves challenges of family, friendship, first love, and coming of age grounds Starr’s personal story inside a larger community.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jay Robin Brown—books that combine faith and LGBT issues are so hopeful and nice, and Joanna made a compelling protagonist in this regard. I liked Joanna’s sense of responsibility throughout the book, and her conflicts between respecting her parents, being herself, and doing what’s right were sympathetic and encouraging to anyone who wants to make a difference in her community.

Jazz by Toni Morrison—I tell everyone to read Toni Morrison these days. Jazz is fantastic because despite the narrative’s simplicity (everyone is sad after a guy kills his eighteen-year-old mistress, including his wife), it dives deep within the characters’ souls and has an actual happy ending. It was a great end to my semester.

Go, read yourselves silly. And come back next week, because the book discussions have just begun.

What are the best books you’ve read in the last few months?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Do You Keep Track of Your DNFs?

The House of Leaves - Burning 8
via LearningLark on Flickr
I’ve always considered the right to DNF fundamental to my happiness as a reader.

This was especially true during the summer before eighth grade. I’d just discovered a message board where I could discuss books with other kids my age. I got quite a few recommendations, and I put many on hold at the library. Many were amazing! Many were not. And, with so many books to read, those that fell in the latter category were not finished and promptly returned.

The question of the DNF (Do/Did Not Finish) pile crops up every once and a while in the blogosphere. Some people don’t DNF anything, ever. Some DNF without a second thought. Others give books a chance to prove themselves before DNFing, and certain readers make an effort to pick out books they know they will like, eliminating the need to DNF all together.

It’s a varied practice, but I find that even those who staunchly refuse to DNF have at least one title that proved an exception. Time constraints, serious boredom, uncomfortable materials, and other offenses can really get to a person sometimes. And I said we could name one title, but I’m curious. Do we keep track of all the books we don’t finish?

I didn’t in eighth grade. I didn’t even like keeping track of the books I did read. I have no idea what I gave up on—but that’s okay. The books I tossed out then probably wouldn’t mean much more to me now.

I did end up adding a DNF page to my reading log in 2015—I wanted to remember that I’d tried The Young Elites and didn’t like it. I didn’t give it much thought after that. I added one other book over the next twelve months.

I have DNFing on the brain now, however, because I’ve DNF’d six books in the last four months. What is even up with that? I know I thought I’d like four of them, but here I am, shipping these books off to be enjoyed by some other person while I stare at my list and wonder where I went wrong. Did I overestimate how much I like reading romance novels? Am I allergic to the romantic problems of thirty-somethings? Are they just actually bad?

I don’t know. It is, as they say, a mystery. Still, the fact that I keep track of my DNF’s has enabled me to think about this subject at all. It makes me wonder if I’ll find a pattern, and when my next DNF will show up.

(Hopefully it won’t be in the near future, though. I’m ready for a good read at this point).

 What about you? Do you keep track of the books you DNF?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

BOOM. Shape-shifters.

via Jason Devaun on Flickr
I presume that if you are reading this, you are doing so with a body. (If not, warmest greetings to the ghosts and/or bots perusing my blog. Please do not repossess my soul.)

Bodies are interesting—they are the interface through which you experience the world, the physical space we associate with “you.” And they give the illusion of a constant identity where there may be none. You are not reading this with the body you were born in. In fact, if you’re over fourteen, it’s an entirely different one: all your cells have been replaced at least once. You are different than you were as a baby, and different than you will be at age 80. And that goes for both your physical body and your identity. They are inconstant, for better or worse.

But even if you reside in an impermanent, changeable body, it’s still a body you must stay in if you want to continue your existence. The same is not true for shape-shifters. In fiction we meet people who can change their form quickly and unnaturally and yet maintain a consistent (?) identity. We read them as the same character, even though they might have a completely different brain! Bizarre, no?

Here are six of my favorites.

1. Solembum (Inheritance Cycle) | As a werecat, Solembum can take a more humanoid form if he so chooses. This is a pretty unsettling experience! In a way, though, it’s an honest portrayal. Shape-shifting is completely foreign to human experience, and we’d react as such. (Also, werecats can just be creepy.)

2. Wanderer (The Host) | Wanda is a parasite who has possessed various creatures throughout the galaxy. She describes the unique, even weird, experiences each host has provided her with. (Sounds obvious, but being seaweed is different than being human.) But Wanda has a malevolent power, too—she can kill other beings by staying inside them too long.

3. Orma (Seraphina) | Seraphina notices that her uncle is more harsh and bloodthirsty in his native dragon form. Possessing a human body changes Orma—he becomes more emotional by nature of its biological functions. Seraphina actually has a conversation suggesting that dragons are different people in human form. From this perspective, identity is tied to biological form and something is lost by shifting.

4. Tally Youngblood (Uglies) | Each book in this series follows the progression of Tally’s identity as it correlates to her physical form. From an intimidated Ugly to a complicit Pretty to a subversive Special, Tally’s body reflects her place in the world. I like this shape-shifting because it’s more clinical than fantastical and ties in with political and psychological questions. It’s interesting.

5. Artemis Fowl (The Last Guardian) | I was FURIOUS when I first finished TLG because I thought they’d clone Artemis’s body, explain his life story to him, and then tote around a sad Artemis puppet until it died. After a second glance, I realized Artemis’s new body does not represent a new identity because he contains his memories and experiences within his soul. That soul will allow him to be his old self again! (Also, he could be immortal if he wanted?)

6. Iko (The Lunar Chronicles) | Unlike the other folks on this list, Iko is a droid. In fact, she is a personality chip. She’s just as much herself whether she inhabits a spaceship or an escort droid—but Iko makes the choice to keep a permanent body, like her friends. It’s interesting, because Iko envies her friends’ “permanent” bodies because they are human, but we might have something to envy in Iko, too. Iko’s personality chip contains her “soul,” giving her a self more constant than a body could ever be. I’m glad she has that.

Six shape-shifters! Maybe not quite so dramatic as Mystique or the Doctor, but still, interesting folks, all. They leave me with questions more than anything else. Souls? Bodies? Change? WHAT IS ALL THIS? And will we ever know?

Who are some of your favorite fictional shape-shifters?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Liking Stuff That Nobody Else Does

I watched Donnie Darko on Friday night and it was great.

This movie is enticingly dark and disturbing. There is a demonic rabbit, who is both soft and terrifying. It entertains obscure literary themes without being too pretentious. There is black humor. There is a very serious (if drunk) discussion of the Smurfs and their origin. And it ends with murder and time travel and tragedy, so, all in all, it was a good way to kick off the weekend.

And I kicked it off by myself because Donnie Darko is not the kind of movie my peeps would enjoy. “Peeps” being shorthand for family or close friends, even though it makes me sound twelve. (Also, we should qualify that this could change. My youngest sister is too young for R-rated films, but I bet she’ll enjoy Donnie’s story when she’s fifteen or so.)

The point is that my peeps are not the peeps who watch eerie psychological thrillers by themselves at night and laugh at the bizarreness of it all.

My peeps are also not the peeps who like Twilight. A few of my peeps disdain my fondness for Bob’s Burgers and Hamilton without cease. And I doubt my peeps would pick up The Female of the Species or Catch-22 just because. We have our differences, my peeps and I.

Those differences are actually very important to me, actually. I cling to them, because it is important to like stuff that nobody else does.

Of course, I do not mean “nobody” literally. Donnie Darko is on some people’s “movies to see before you die” list. Twilight was a huge bestseller and popular enough to get five movies. I am not alone in the world in liking those things.

(I might worry if I was alone in the world in liking something. I’d need a good old coming-of-age type story to get me into the correct bar or mall or wherever that would introduce me to the people like me. There is also Twitter for those of us who are, for the present time, grounded.) 
(Alternatively, I might worry about belonging to a community that identifies itself by its isolation from the things “the rest of the world” likes, and may thus assume it is more threatened and unliked than it actually is. But that is the narrative of their world, and I suppose it is mandatory among teenagers.)
It is good to like things that your friends don’t. It is good to like things that your family doesn’t. Also, if you like things the people you live with don’t, then they won’t try to watch TV with you when you want to be alone. That is my key life advice in this post: always keep at least one movie that you like and nobody else does so no one will watch it with you.

Liking your own stuff gives you a chance to enjoy something unique and fun just for yourself, that doesn’t come attached to any other relationships. And in some sense, tending to your own stuff is what keeps you together as an individual. And that is good, too.

What are some things you like that ‘nobody else’ does?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

2016 End-of-Year Survey

You may have noticed that it is 2017.

I have noticed, too. You may also recall that it was previously 2016, and as is my habit, when a year is done I like to do a survey on what people thought. In the past I have used Google forms, but this year I am using Typeform, mostly because I think it makes me look glamorous. Which I am, if you were wondering.

Since I'm using Typeform for the first time, please note that I was a big girl and did not ask a bunch of unnecessary questions to feel the rush of having you give a star review of everything that takes my fancy.

(However, I reserve the right to bombard you with another survey in a few weeks that will ask you more interesting, more important questions like "How would you rate Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare?" or "How close to the bathroom do you trim your toenails?" And I will use whatever survey options I please.)

All jokes aside, though, it is always supremely helpful when you take a few minutes to give me some feedback. I know I've been less-than-consistent the last few months, but hopefully this will give me some direction so that both you and I enjoy hanging out in this spot. You can reach the 2016 survey by following this link to the place. Also, it is supposed to be embedded below, but since previewing options are limited, who knows what will happen?

Thank you in advance!

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In Which "The Lying Detective" Bums Me Out

So Sherlock season four came out.

I didn’t like it. I won’t go into all the reasons why, since spoilers are unfashionable and Sherlock doesn’t deserve that much of my energy anyway. Still, one aspect of Episode 2, “The Lying Detective” just bugged me.

That aspect is called Sherlock’s drug use.

For those who haven’t seen the episode (and in the least spoilery summary possible), the gist is that John is mad at Sherlock, so Sherlock takes SO MUCH COCAINE that he is literally weeks from death. By the end, we find out that Sherlock’s dangerous drug use was a ploy to trick John into rescuing Sherlock from the bad guy and himself. John then realizes how silly he was to be mad at Sherlock and they live happily ever after. The end.

Problematic much?

To be clear, it is not so much the cocaine that bothers me. The canonical Sherlock Holmes dabbled in cocaine, and most other Sherlocks do, too. I’m reluctant to say cocaine is “fine,” but last semester I read High Price by Dr. Carl Hart—it addressed harmful assumptions about drugs and racism in the United States, so I don’t want to perpetuate those. Suffice it to say that while cocaine can bring iffy baggage with it, there are totally ways to do Sherlock Holmes that incorporate his drug use and are still awesome. (Plenty of renditions have already succeeded—I love Elementary and the Robert Downey Jr. movies. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro comes to mind as well.)

“Sherlock uses cocaine.” Whatever.

“Sherlock uses cocaine to destroy himself and manipulate his best friend.” How ‘bout no.

There are psychological rules for what counts as manipulation. This might not meet that definition. Nor was this exceptionally odd for Sherlock. We know Sherlock nearly kills himself over his cases more than is healthy. And I’m sure there are people out there who found “The Lying Detective” perfectly acceptable—to be fair, it was much better than its predecessor. Shouldn’t we leave room for drama? Don’t we want to see Holmes and Watson at their limits?

I’m not going to say no. But I am going to say that Sherlock played with John’s brain. Even if he had good-ish intentions (don’t think Mary is off the hook for all of this), this was a plan to get what Sherlock wanted—not necessarily what John wanted, or even needed. Respect for John’s time, emotions, and even safety were thrown out the window.

Sherlock invaded John’s boundaries. Sherlock forced John to be responsible for his life—if John never stepped in, Sherlock would have died. It would be “John’s fault.” Which means Sherlock essentially threatened to kill himself to maintain their relationship. I don’t count that as a good thing.

Friendships are demanding things. You have to give and take, and sometimes it sucks, and sometimes it is beyond rewarding. Sherlock Holmes, if nothing else, is a demanding person. Part of the joy in watching Sherlock Holmes stories, for me, is getting to see what Sherlock and Watson give to one another. Their friendship is infamous not because of their similarities, but their complementary natures. And we’ve had over 100 years to consider the ways their friendship can fail… but also why it always rises victorious.

I struggle with the end of this episode. John was mad at Sherlock for a silly reason, so some element of forgiveness was necessary. But good friends also don’t abuse drugs to resolve their disagreements. Not like Sherlock did. That was a breach of trust, and so I’m still kind of mad about what that behavior took away from the friendship. How can John really trust Sherlock after that? BBC Sherlock shouldn’t make it harder and harder for me to say that Holmes and Watson are an amazing team, but it seems like each new season proves me wrong.

What did you think of BBC Sherlock season four?