Monday, October 17, 2016



Since school is getting to be a little much right now, I'm going to put Sometimes I'm a Story on hiatus for a little bit. Not to worry—I'll be back again next month (probably before Thanksgiving) with more discussions, ideas, and more.

Also, don't feel sad that I'm going away. I'm still going to be visiting blogs and sharing awkward stories on Twitter if you find you miss me.

See you in November!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Do House Systems in Fiction Appeal to You?

Historic Milling Town of Falk
Flickr Credit: blmcalifornia
House systems make me suspicious.

I’m not against dividing students. In both my high school and university, colleges separate students so they take classes according to their desired career—STEM, business, healthcare/service, or arts. These allow students to specialize, which is a good thing in our world! Thus, I can understand why fictional schools or organizations have houses. Individuals have a personal “group” to whom they can be loyal. It forces team dynamics. It can be nice.

At the same time, at my schools we aren’t differentiated by uniforms with our house sigils. We aren’t always divided. The point is specialization, not group (read as: mob) loyalty that defines student relationships. We can even participate in more than one “house” if we want to! It happens in books, though. House systems manipulate kids. By blocking certain interactions or exchanges of information, these houses can lead to terrible, terrible things. So I thought I’d look at a few.

Harry Potter’s houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw
Percy Jackson’s cabins: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Dionysus [and more]
Shadow and Bone’s Grisha Orders: Corporalki, Etheralki, Materialki
H.I.V.E.’s streams: Alpha, Henchman, Political/Financial, Technical
39 Clues’ branches: Lucian, Ekaterina, Janus, Tomas, Madrigal

via Goodreads

Who is allowed to join this house?

HP| the virtuous—houses distinguish students by their value for bravery, honesty, cunning, or wit
PJO| the heirs—cabins distinguish campers by their godly parent
Grisha| the heirs—orders select students by their innate ability for the small science
H.I.V.E.| the skilled—streams divide students based on a propensity for leadership, tactical skill, social orders, and technology
39C| the heirs—branches claim talented members of a certain bloodline

via Goodreads

Do students take classes together?

HP| sometimes—younger students are more divided; older students with similar career goals intermix
PJO| yes—most activities are open to everyone, though cabins do dictate teams sometimes
Grisha| sometimes—Grisha specialize within the small science, but they might go over history, etc. in groups (we don’t really know)
H.I.V.E.| sometimes—all streams require some classes; older students take specialized classes
39C| no—family secrets must stay secret, so no intermixing is allowed (at first)

via Goodreads

Are students allowed to interact outside of class?

HP| sometimes—most of the time, yes, minus mealtimes; during an emergency or a dark wizard takeover, houses are kept separate
PJO| yes—everyone has friends outside their own cabin
Grisha| yes—everyone must team up for the war effort, after all
H.I.V.E.| yes—streams intermix in dormitory blocks, the dining room, and all other activities (the one time they separated the streams was to aid a mass murder plot and kill an entire stream)
39C| no—branches try to keep separate and when they meet it is usually to kill or betray each other

via Goodreads

What level of rivalry exists between the houses?

HP| a lot—through Quidditch and the point system there are major rivalries between G/S and H/R
PJO| some to a lot—there’s regular competition, and then there’s Greek mythology’s daddy issues made manifest on earth
Grisha| little—while there is a lot of individual competition, the orders are for the most part unified
H.I.V.E.| some—it’s mostly individual competition, but the Alpha and henchman streams do not get along
39C| a lot—they’ve been trying to kill each other for six centuries, and those wounds don’t heal easy

via Goodreads

Is there a class/moral association with any houses over the others?

HP| moral—the books characterize Slytherin as evil, period; they are Hogwarts’ general enemies
PJO| class and moral—certain houses bring great esteem (Zeus, Poseidon, etc.) while others are considered less (Hermes); some houses have dubious morality because of their values (Ares) and others because of their occupants (children of the Big Three)
Grisha| class—the Darkling and Sun Summoner are at the top of the pyramid, certain orders have more respect than others, and some individuals are considered less by their profession (like Genya)
H.I.V.E.| class—Alphas and Political/Financial students are expected to become the world’s next leaders; henchmen have comparatively little esteem or wealth to look forward to
39C| moral—some branches have a more sinister nature, Madrigals are perceived as good, and everyone is good compared to the Vespers

I don’t know if I think one of these is the “best” of them all. Ultimately, I have a lot of problems with the house system—it’s because of houses that so much injustice occurs in Harry Potter’s world, and a magical serum justifies centuries of murder between the Cahill family branches.

I mean, I think The 39 Clues branches are the worst. That’s something I’m willing to say. They are the most divisive and unjust, so. Yeah. That does it for me. And if I wanted to choose somewhere for myself, it would be H.I.V.E. Dr. Nero has structured his school like, well, a real school. And I like that best.

Which house system appeals to you the most?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Infinity Dreams Tag

Though you may know Alexa from Summer Snowflakes, she also posts for a book review blog called Verbosity Reviews, and on it she tagged me for the Infinity Dreams Award! And though you may know Victoria from Endless Oceans of My Mind… I don’t think she has  another blog. She ALSO tagged me for the Infinity Dreams Award! Thanks, ladies!
  • thank the blogger who nominated you
  • list 11 facts about yourself
  • answer your nominator’s questions
  • nominate 11 bloggers and set questions for them

I have brown hair. | I have hazel eyes. | But my eyes used to be blue. | I wear black glasses. | My ears are pierced. | My earrings are usually the turquoise. | I have other earrings, too. | I have some red and purple and skull ones in my room. | I have a rounder head than my sisters. | I have the nose from my dad’s side of the family. | You’re welcome, police sketch artists. 

Alexa’s Questions

1. If you could pick one character to portray you in the movie of your life, who would that person be? | Franz Argentblum. We are different in appearance but alike in spirit.

2. Pick one character from any movie, show, or book, and pick a candy to describe them. What candy would they be? | Ron Weasley would be Reese’s Peanut Butter cups because I’m allergic.

3. What’s your favorite album? | All Things Bright and Beautiful by Owl City

4. What’s your favorite soundtrack? | That for Firefly.

5. Do you use character reference pictures? | No, that’s always felt immoral to me.

6. Do you prefer a lot of descriptions in stories or just a taste of setting so your imagine can build up the rest? | Tastes of a setting spark my imagination better than the hellish info-dump.

7. If you had to choose and could only have one or the other, would you choose a brilliant plot and awful characters or brilliant charries and an awful plot? | Brilliant characters, awful plot. I’m a charaholic.

8. Do you feel like your personality type changes when you write? | Nope… I’m pretty standardly me when I’m writing.

9. Do you adore discovering MBTI types? | Rarely. They are less fun for real people and more fun for fictional characters because then they don't hurt anybody.

10. Since I’m on a roll, what’s your MBTI type? | ISTJ.

11. What’s your favorite gif/meme/pinterest post? | Simba.


Victoria’s Questions

1. Who is your favorite superhero and why? | Captain America or Thor—they just have the best values in the MCU, I think.

2. If you had a whole day to yourself to do whatever you wanted, what would you do? | College, homework, many television shows. Pretty much what I do every day.

3. What was your favorite book of 2015? | Good news—I actually narrowed it down to my top 15!

4. If you could live anywhere outside of your country, where would you live? | Key word being could. I could live anywhere. But I don’t want to.

5. Is there a specific piece of clothing you wear all the time/often? | Yes. All of my clothes. All the time.

6. Which genre do you write in the most? | Speculative—different kinds of fantasy, mostly.

7. What’s your favorite way to spend your evenings? | Watching Castle or Supernatural or Elementary or Leverage or Firefly or any of my favorite TV shows.

8. Which accomplishment are you most proud of? | I hate getting this question because the concept of accomplishments is dumb.

9. If you could travel back in time, when and where would you go? | Probably to the year I was born or something. Maybe the year my parents were born. Stalking my family members/baby me sounds like the most amusing way to do it.

10. Briefly describe a usual day for you. | wake up-Internet-homework-homework-homework-Internet-dinner-write-TV-read-sleep again.

11. Who is your favorite fictional character? | If Franz is not available because I already said him, Carlisle Cullen or MCU’s Loki.

I’m not tagging anybody this round, but you’re welcome to steal any of the above questions if you so choose!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thursentary: Translated Books

via Goodreads
Reading books that have been translated into English has always been a weird experience for me.

I don’t read translated books a lot. Most of the time I read books written by English-speaking writers. Some of them are native speakers, and some are fluent in their second language, but that is the norm. This is my comfort zone.

I start to get antsy when a book that was written in an entirely different language has been translated to English. Translators have a tricky task ahead of them—Ana Castillo said it like this: “as a writer as well as a translator I do believe that translated words are not different names for the same thing. They're different names for different things” (source). Essentially, a language represents the people it is talking about and the person who is talking, and you have to try to capture that with an entirely different set of words.

Some stuff translates better than others. Also, some stuff doesn’t. Let me tell you about my strongest memories of translated books:

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke | The only Funke book I ever finished was Dragon Rider. Thief Lord and Inkheart were too boring, even though the latter is especially popular. I WANTED TO LIKE IT. I did. But I got bored all the times I tried to read Inkheart. Few people understood why I didn’t enjoy the book, so most of the time I just told them, “I think it probably sounds better in German.”

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder | This was not a bad book—it’s intellectual, challenging, and has a decent story. But the language of the book was a little difficult for me, and some of the plot points… Not to spoil anything, but Sophie has a birthday party. I think she turns thirteen or fourteen. Anyway, it’s a kids-and-parents party, and two of the kids go and have sex in the bushes and maybe get pregnant and literally no one cares. Part of that is like, the point of such a philosophical book, but part of me believes that scene made more sense to Gaarder when he wrote the book.

Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal | Full disclosure: this is my current read. I’m only partway through so far, but it’s easy to notice a few stylistic writing differences. A good part appears in the form of fragmented sentences. It’s common for the writer to say something important. And then add on a sentence like this, when she really probably should have used a comma or started a new complete sentence. Also, the logic system they use is different. It’s hard to describe, but I feel like the system involves saying a lot of things and then looping back and elaborating on the details as many times as is necessary. I… am getting used to it. Ish.

I’m not sure if I have a definitive opinion on translations. On the one hand, they’re special because they can help you share in something that somebody said in another language. You communicate in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. But translations are tricky! There are some impossible differences to reconcile, and I know it makes me less satisfied sometimes. But that’s okay. It’s good to stretch your brain sometimes.

Have you read any books translated from another language?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Sacrifice Tag

Flickr Credit: Forsaken Fotos
Liz over at Out of Coffee, Out of Mind was a cool person and tagged me for the Book Sacrifice Tag! Thanks, Liz!

Also, just because I would sacrifice these books doesn’t mean that they are terrible or you shouldn’t like them. DO WHAT YOU WANT. Let’s just not sacrifice each other over our opinions.

via Goodreads
an over-hyped book | situation: You are in a bookstore when zombies attack. Over the loudspeaker, you hear the military informing you that over-hyped books are the zombies' only weakness. What over-hyped book will you chuck at the zombies? (And remember, no body shots. Head shots only. Come on, you’ve seen The Walking Dead—you know how this works.)

I felt like Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter was a huge disappointment. And I’d heard such good things about it! Of my friends on Goodreads, all of them gave it 3-5 stars, which means all of them at least liked it. BUT THERE WAS LITERALLY NO EXTERNAL PROBLEM IN CAMMIE’S LIFE AND SHE WAS COMPLETELY PASSIVE THE ENTIRE NOVEL. Ugh, this was just a painful read.

via Goodreads
a sequel | situation: You are caught in a torrential downpour, and you’re probably the type who melts when you get wet. What sequel are you willing to use as an umbrella to protect yourself?

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne. NOOP. Noop noop noop. There’s so much to say but the worst part was definitely the screwy characterization of Severus Snape. That was unacceptable to me. Better his dialogue melts than me.

via Goodreads
a classic | situation: You’re in English class and your professor won’t stop going on about a classic that "revolutionized literature." Personally, you think that classic is garbage, and you decide to express your opposing opinion by hurling it at his head. What classic is that?

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Forgive me if I don’t find the overwhelming male-ness of the novel interesting or true or worthwhile. Say what you will about human morality—though I also believe a different group of boys could easily have created a very different novel. I just hate it.

via Goodreads
a least favorite book | situation: You’re hanging out at a bookstore (where else would you be?) when global warming somehow manages to turn the world into a frozen wasteland. Naturally, your only hope of survival is to burn a book. Which book would you not regret tossing onto the fire?

The worst novel I have ever read is Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. I have seen all the James Bond movies, including all three Casino Royales, so I was hoping the book might be good. No, it was boring and dumb. I will sum it up so you do not have to read it: James Bond is a spy. It is spy beach day! Yay! James Bond has sex. James Bond gambles! More sex! Then James Bond goes for a drive. Then, suddenly, there is international conflict and James Bond and his girlfriend are tortured! But then James Bond saves the day and more sex happens. The end. Blah.

So, I could tell you more strong feelings about books I didn’t like but you’re probably done now, as am I. I don’t plan to tag anyone, but please, steal this from me if you feel so inclined.

All right, let us here it. What is a book that you would sacrifice, and why?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Is Commenting Back Still a Thing?

Any Questions?
Flickr Credit: Matthias Ripp
I started blogging because of the fad.

Blogs were cool—I think there were various articles suggesting they would be good for your business, maybe your life. I didn’t know about those until later. I just made one because my friends were making them, too. For a lot of people, the formula went something like, post twice, forget for a month, try again, and then delete the thing.

That didn’t happen to me. I think I thought it would be good blogging practice if I posted often, so despite the fact that I was doing this alone, I stuck to it. I didn’t understand why people thought it was fun, but I still did it anyway.

Then I found the book blogging community and realized the entertainment and social factor were not myths. I wanted to comment on other people’s blogs, and, surprisingly, they wanted to comment back on mine.

I know that at least some of my traffic came from a project created by Readers in WonderlandBloggers Commenting Back. It’s about as simple as it sounds. When someone comments on your blog, you go and comment on theirs. Personally, I never really participated. My general philosophy is if you don’t have anything [nice] to say, don’t say nothing at all. I have my mean commenter side, but if I feel stupid compared to other people commenting or have no opinion then I don’t force myself to force a comment. Those are pretty painful.

Anyway, back to the thing: commenting back. I remember seeing people displaying the banner and feeling very curious about it. Bloggers who wrote good comments seemed to make them popular and good at making new friends. They got themselves out there. From what I’ve observed, that seems less of a thing now. Why is that, I wonder?

Blogging is less big now. Many people have realized that blogs are not the next Facebook, and nobody blogs forever. To me, this suggests there are fewer people blogging than a couple years ago and fewer people making blogs. That would contribute to the commenting back downsize.

Also, new bloggers might not know. It is always great to see new faces in the blogosphere, but they might not come in with a working knowledge of what was going on three years ago. Which is fine—how would such people know? But, it also means that people aren’t necessarily jumping on the “commenting back” bandwagon anymore.

Finally, I bet it’s tiresome. I actually struggled to find a Bloggers Commenting Back banner on blogs where I knew I’d seen it before. Some people have taken it down. But I have no judgment. Blogging is hard, and commenting back is harder. People lose the time and ability to comment back as they once had, and especially since a lot of book bloggers are in this gig for free, commenting back is an even greater toll on their time. There isn’t always enough compensation to make commenting back worth it, and I think that’s okay to admit. Like I’ve said before, you as a person are more important than your blog.

I guess I’m curious, though—has the “Bloggers Commenting Back” movement ended for good? Have bloggers lost interest? Do they only comment on blogs they really enjoy? Do they still comment back, but without identifying themselves by the banner? I don’t know. Perhaps you do.

Is commenting back a priority on your blog?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Vacation Week


For productivity reasons, I will not be posting this week. You can expect our regularly scheduled discussion posts beginning again next Monday!

Have a superb week, and beware the cabbage.



Friday, September 23, 2016

Habits and Styles for Reading and Writing

Clancy in Bed
Flickr Credit: Hegla Weber
Today’s question comes from Topaz Winters at Six Impossible Things:

I’ve already talked a little bit about how being in college has impacted being able to read for fun, which you can read here. The general gist is that college is time-consuming, but I work my way around it.

When it comes to reading for school, I have a few particular quirks that don’t apply to reading for fun. Namely, when I read a book for school I have to think about whether or not I’m going to want to keep it in the long run. For example, I have a decent sociology textbook, but I’ll try to sell it at the end of the semester because it will no longer be of use to me. I have been highlighting the book and writing down notes separately so someone else can use it later.

Sometimes I do find books I want to keep, though. A few of my favorites include Wit by Margaret Edson, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. These were all great books and I hope to read them again at some point, so I don’t inhibit myself with annotations and whatnot.

Writing is another matter entirely.

My writing style especially has seen a bigger shift. I used to spend a lot of time writing creative fiction. I haven’t given up on that, but I’ve mostly worked on those projects during the winter and summer breaks. In the meantime, I’ve spent more time on essay-type activities. Some of that is indeed homework, but some of that is also the blog posts you read here. Some of that is also me writing geeky responses to the TV shows I watch.

As to habits, I’ve definitely fallen behind. I make time for writing blog posts and my fun TV-related essays, but I haven’t made writing as much of a priority during the school year. It doesn’t bother me, though. I don’t really know what I want to do career-wise, so I don’t feel like I’m losing anything by not writing.

There is one difference about this semester—I’m taking a creative writing class in poetry. We read and study famous people’s poetry, of course, but it also involves writing our own poems. This means that even if I’m not writing the same way I used to, I still have a creative outlet that fits right into my school schedule and a group of people who can help me improve.

That’s sort of a brief overview of my styles and habits right now. I don’t think that’s what they’ll look like in the long run, but here we are for now.

How do you stay on top of writing and reading during the school year?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


ZOMBIES. I love zombies. Fictional zombies. I am less excited about real zombies. Anyway, we’re using the zombie apocalypse for this tag, so I have zero fears in my heart. Thanks to Alexa from Summer Snowflakes for tagging me!

The Rulios:
  • pick five books (favorites or random, but know the characters)
  • write the name of the books on strips of paper
  • draw one strip randomly for the first question
  • open to a random page and use the first name you see to answer the first question
  • use the same book for question two, but turn to a different page
  • repeat steps 2-5 until you’ve answered all the questions
Full disclosure, I’m not doing that. I am not going to be writing down all these things on paper. Instead, I am going to use the Random Thing Picker to select both the order of the books and the characters I’m using (instead of the first name I see, I will put all the character names on that page into the generator).

The setup is so much faster this way.

via Goodreads

Dreadnought by Mark Walden

1. The First Person to Die: Jason Drake. Praise the Lord. This guy is like Steve Jobs, but with plans to set off the volcano in Yosemite and kill us all. Him getting eaten by zombies is a best-case scenario.

2. The Person You Trip to Get Away from the Zombies: Diabolus Darkdoom. In what world am I going to be faster than Diabolus Darkdoom? He’s one of the world’s most prominent supervillains and he must have a foot on me. (Also, if I trip him and he lives, I am going to be facing a world of pain when this is all over.)

via Goodreads

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

3. The First Person to Turn Into a Zombie: Sydney. Is it more ironic that she already is one or that, well—read the book. You will understand. You will laugh.

4. The Person that Trips You To Get Away from the Zombies: Victor. Completely in character and I don’t forgive him even a little bit.

via Goodreads

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

5. The Idiot of the Team: Charlie Swan. I don’t think Charlie is stupid, of course, but if Bella and Edward are still committed to telling him things on a “need to know” basis then yeah, he might not even realize there are zombies about until they’re already defeated.

6. The Brains of the Team: Jacob. Well. Maybe we will die. Maybe we won’t. It isn’t that he’s stupid… it’s just… he is a very emotional boy. Good leader, and probably a great weapon against zombies. Just… emotional.

via Goodreads

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

7. The Team’s Medic: Bob. Well, he really is more of a gung-ho leader who leads people fearlessly into battle in the name of saving his species, but… Well. He wasn’t all that excited about stopping to deliver a baby, so if you get shot, you might just have to suck it up.

8. The Weapons Expert: Cole. Oh dear. I mean, I’m sure Cole knows a lot of things about weapons, he is also just dumb as a brick. It’s cute, but probably not that cute when you have fifty zombies behind you. Hoo boy.

via Goodreads

Cress by Marissa Meyer

9. The Brawler: Cinder. Well, it’s not really her style, but I suppose, being a cyborg and all, that she can adjust to the task if needed.

10. The Team Captain: Thorne. Oh goodie. I mean, not only will he be a hilarious team captain, but he’ll also make Jacob and Bob feel like they are stupid every day of the week. Maybe he will need Cinder there to be his impulse control.

And there we have it! My zombie apocalypse team. Will we live? Will we die? I have no idea. However, I have to say, if I were looking for better examples of leadership, cunning, bravery, and kickassery, then I would be hard-pressed to improve. I guess that’s something.

I shall to tagging Victoria and Imogen and Alex very.

Who would you want on your zombie apocalypse team?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Five Posts a Day

Flickr Credit: Wetsun
I love going to school, but I have to admit it’s disappointing to lose some of my blogging time.

Fortunately, writing blog posts hasn’t become unmanageable. I didn’t think I was going to come up with a Thursentary last week, and then I had so much free time that putting one together Wednesday afternoon was a non-stressful experience. Normally, though, I reserve an hour on Friday mornings to write blog posts, and that gets me through the week.

But blogging isn’t just about being a good writer—good bloggers are also good readers and commenters.

I’ve never been a timely commenter. Even when I had plenty of time to frolic in the blogosphere over the summer, I was that person who showed up two weeks late to posts and made many executive decisions that involved ignoring various posts on my reading list. Still, there would be days when I could binge my reading list and conquer my neighborly duties.

Blog Binging season is over. Between homework and the recently-arrived seasons of Leverage, Supernatural and Elementary, my priorities have changed. (Sorry, mortals.) This doesn’t bother me—I’m not getting paid for this, and likewise, I wouldn’t expect other unpaid bloggers to devote their lives to this gig, either.

At the same time, the cost of not visiting other people’s blogs is great. I lose community and contacts, and that doesn’t appeal to me in the long run. I’ve hardly been able to hang out on Twitter, so blogging is the main way I’ve been able to stay involved. My solution isn’t amazing, but it’s functional.

I read five unread blog posts every day. It suits me, since I don’t have all the time in the world or a great attention span. I still don’t always comment and I don’t always reach my goal, but it’s still been helping. Doing something is always more productive than doing nothing. And I’m glad that my Bloglovin’ list is getting smaller, even if it takes a longer time than I am used to.

And sure, my inbox is flooded with comments from my own blog that I haven’t responded to in weeks. My Google Calendar is overwhelmed with post and tag ideas I haven’t gotten around to yet. My unfinished homework sits in a pile of guilt. Just kidding, I always do my homework before I blog. At any rate, it’s not a perfect system, but I’m managing.

It can be enough.

How do you stay active in the blogging community when your life gets busy?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursentary: How Much Should We Emphasize Our Opinions?

vienna subway
Flickr Credit: Dragan
Let me guess, you’ve probably said something along these lines in one of your reviews before:

“This is just my opinion, so you should totally give it a chance anyway!”
“I have a thing about love triangles, so I personally hated the romance.”
“Usually coming of age stories bore me but that’s just me.”

Sound familiar? I know because I’ve read them in book reviews, and I’ve put them in some of my own reviews, too. (Of course, y’all know how often I review things.)

I may sound completely clueless, but I guess I want to know why we so often feel the need to negate our negative opinions, especially in book reviews.

On the one hand, I get it. When you want to make an argument, one of the best things you can do is address a possible criticism before anyone actually brings it up. That’s actually the purpose of this paragraph. Someone in the comments would make a valid point in saying, “Sure, everyone knows that book reviews are just opinions, but if I don’t acknowledge the subjectivity of my review, then someone can call me out on that, or even be discouraged from trying the book out itself.” And fair enough. It’s important to cover all your bases. I even agree that it’s fair for people to occasionally call you out on your opinion.

Maybe you were actually really insensitive to an issue present in the book. As books featuring diverse representation and diverse authors gain more attention, there’s a lot of room for unkindness, ignorance, apathy, and prejudice to show through in reviews. Even if those sentiments are technically “an opinion,” don’t be surprised if it don’t fly in the book blogging community.

Maybe your opinion is wrong. It is one thing to say “my favorite color is yellow,” and it is another to say, “My favorite part of the Harry Potter series is when Ron is turned into an elephant and stampedes the Great Hall, killing two students and a house elf.” That didn’t happen. It is okay if people show up in your life to say, “Yo, that didn’t happen, but I’d read that fanfic.”

And, maybe your opinion is too aggressive. Whether it’s in your review or (by some ill-possessed conviction) commented upon someone else’s review, there are some thoughts you’re better off keeping you yourself. For example: “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK OF ALL TIME I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DON’T WANT TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF TO THE HERO WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU I HOPE THAT SATAN COMES AND RIPS YOUR SPINE OUT OF YOUR BACK.” Like, really. It’s a book. Chill out.

I get all of these things. I know why these things are good. And yet I have two lingering thoughts.

But why do we only negate negative opinions? It’s commonplace to say “You might like the story even though I found the pace boring.” You’d probably never see someone say, “I just loved the character development in this book—it made this one of my favorites. Although you might not like it since you don’t like good character development.” (My head says I should replace “since” with an “if” but my heart says let the passive aggressiveness roll). Negative remarks can be damaging, they can make us sound horrible… but for some reason, they seem to have a heavier weight than good opinions. What if we recognized good and bad opinions as equals? Would that change anything?

Also, I don’t think professional reviewers do this. Granted, we are not professionals because most of the time, we aren’t paid, but still. If a reviewer from the New Yorker published something like, “I thought it was bad, but what do I know? It’s possible my thoughts are irrelevant and my boss is paying me for nothing. Give it a chance, anyway!” then that person would probably not be invited to write many more reviews. Yes, you have an opinion, and what’s more, if you’ve read the book and you’ve written a fair review, then I think you have a certain authority behind that opinion. You don’t have to know everything, only that you were bored or offended or unexcited or confused during the story—that’s your experience! It’s okay to share it that way, without everyone assuming that you’re representing how everyone will experience the book.

Bottom line, I guess I feel like in expressing our opinions, we may emphasize the fact that they’re opinions too much.

What do you think? Do you think it’s important to recognize the subjectivity of your opinions?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Morality and Silence

Yo! Aimee over at To the Barricade! recently dropped a post on Christians and using curse words. You don’t have to read her post to understand my following response, but you should still check it out!

Flickr Credit: Issac Mao
There’s this story I read when I was a young teenager that has always stuck with me because of how much I hated it with a passion.

The point of this story is to discourage Christian teens from watching R-rated movies. So there are a couple of kids who want to see an R-rated movie, even though it goes against their dad’s normal rule. They ask their dad for permission, and he agrees to think about it. Later, he agrees with one condition: to see the movie, the teens had to eat some brownies he made. The catch? The dad put some dog poop in them. Even though the poop was “lovingly” mixed in so they wouldn’t taste bad and baked so it wouldn’t make anyone sick, if the teens wanted to see this movie with mature content, they had to eat some brownies with literal shit in them.

The kids did not go for it.

And, as a little happily-ever-after, whenever the kids bring up something the dad is opposed to, he offers to make another batch of those brownies.

**I got this story from Let’s Talk! by Danae Dobson. I do not recommend reading it.

Like I said, I hate this story, first because all parties involved are wimps. Kids, if you want something, then fight for it! Question authority, do research, build your own moral structure. Parents, don’t avoid tough or controversial conversations by threatening to make your kids eat shit if they bring it up. The point of your relationship is to foster maturity and self-sufficiency, not to enforce silence.

That’s what this story promotes. Silence.

What perhaps makes it worse is that it promotes silence for arbitrary reasons.

There are quite a few Christians who discourage cursing, especially in media that will represent who and what Christians are to others. They typically turn to verses such as these:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” –Ephesians 4:29, NIV
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:8, NIV

Now, curse words are definitely unwholesome talk, they might say. Even if there isn’t a list of words Christians shouldn’t use, we can understand that swearing is not pure and therefore always, always, always bad. The end.

…Really? Because, you know, I’ve been using the word ‘shit’ in this post and—not to toot my own horn—I think I’m going to be benefitting those who listen. I’ve been using that swear intentionally. I want you to know exactly how degrading that parent has been to his children, and ‘poo-poo’ just doesn’t cut it.

I get it, though. The best thoughts on swearing that I’ve ever heard have actually come from Sally Read on Arthur. When explaining to D.W. why saying the curse word she’s learned is bad, she says, “It’s like saying, ‘I want to hurt your feelings.’” And I get that. I get that as a Christian. We should not be seeking to deliberately hurt others with our words, because that is wrong.

Of course, if we’re going with that sentiment, why are we focusing on something as random as curse words?

Sure, someone might gasp when you drop an F-bomb when you spill grape juice on your new dress—but that’s easy enough to fix with an apology. There are other things people say that can cause a lasting hurt, and that never seem to be quite so unwelcome as all that.

“Well, in a skirt like that she was kind of asking for it.”
“I don’t see a problem—the police are just doing their job.”
“Who's the boy in your relationship?”  
But you don't look Latino. 
“You should be flattered to have a stalker.” 
 “He doesn't look disabled.” 
“I’m not racist, but—”
“Have you had surgery, y'know, down there?”  
But where are you really from? 
“You have so many things to be grateful for—why are you depressed?”  
“That’s so gay.”
We don't want you here. Go back to where you came from!
“All lives matter.”
“You should take catcalling as a compliment!”
But you act so white. 

And on and on and on.

Cuss words, like any words, can be used flexibly. Cuss words, like any words, can be used to make someone laugh. To make a point. To relieve stress after you have slammed your finger in a car door. To sound cool among your friends. To insult other people. To make interesting rhymes. To be silly. To be smart. To be different. To be the same.

It is entirely up to you in which situations you yourself will use curse words—maybe never. Maybe sometimes. Maybe frequently. And that’s up to you. But imagine if Christians made as big a deal about the above statements as they do about the language in a PG-13 movie. There are plenty of situations where you can be offensive without saying any swears. Where you can contribute to a tradition of causing harm to others in a way that hurts more in the long run. You can be hurtful even by—especially by—failing to speak out. Silence has a heavy cost.

And it’s not really fair to complain about the dog shit in the brownies when you seem to like the cat shit just fine.

Friendly reminder.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Five Reasons I Like Writing Essays

Paper Flower- Ballet
Flickr Credit: Roxanna Salceda

We’re getting back into the swing of school at last. It’s probably weird to announce that I really enjoy my homework, but I do. Writing essays is fun! In, you know, a tedious and self-doubting kind of way. Let me give you a better picture of what I mean.

1. They’re Usually Pretty Short

Okay, this isn’t true all the time. Some people have to write papers upwards of twenty pages, and then there are dissertations and whatnot. But! At least for your average class, essays can be anywhere from 3-10 pages. That brevity means you can spend a lot of time on creating a tight product in a short period of time. As someone who does not like long projects, this works very well for me.

2. They Suit My Editing Method

Be it essay or novel, my editing process involves something like 3-4 rewrites from beginning to end before reaching in-line edits. In projects with a great deal of words, this process can take quite a while. Like I said, I like short projects, so those rewrites can get very tiresome. Also, it’s easier to see how I’ve gotten better in each draft, and I do like stroking my ego.

3. First Drafts are Terrible But I am Hilarious

As with every writing project, my first drafts are terrible, but I have a ton of fun anyway. In fact, I don’t approach writing essays much differently than I do writing blog posts. I just vomit every single thought in my head onto the page. To an outsider, it would look pretty confusing, but I giggle at my own writing. It’s not a terrible problem to have.

(None of these made it into the final edition of the essay, for the record.)

4. They Can Be So Personal!

By personal, I don’t mean that I am the subject of every essay. That isn’t what my teachers or I want. Just because I’m not sharing my life story in essays doesn’t mean that I’m not inserting myself into the conversation. Once I’ve found a subject matter I’m really interested in, I am able to write more like myself than ever. (Of course, this doesn’t always happen, which is a bummer.)

5. They’re a Good Learning Tool

Writing essays about certain subject matter can help me understand a particular work better. If I want to cover all my bases I might have to look up word definitions or the author’s biography or contextual history. Then I have to make sure I’m sticking to the prompt while also making a valid assertion. As often as I have to do it, it’s always a challenge—just the sort I am up for.

Although, having written all this, I realize I have an essay on Hamlet due a week from today. Better get on that…

Have you started getting homework in your classes?

Friday, September 9, 2016

WBI: Voldemort (AVPM)

Wait, you already discussed Voldemort! So I did, clever one. But hold on to your sorting hat, because today we’re referring not to Potter Canon but the Starkid production that is A Very Potter Musical.


WBI Profile

Classification :: Ξ012578!#&@
Role :: Agent of Chaos (destructive, vengeful wizard)
Motivations :: chaos (corrupting MOM), evil (hurting people), idealism (kill mudbloods), lifestyle (evil, dancing), personal/material gain (power, a physical body, revenge), power/influence (magical dictatorship)
Bonus :: magic (wizard), minions (death eaters), family ties (Quirrell), name (Voldemort)


Notable Actions

occupying Quirrell’s body—though Quirrell volunteered his body for his Dark Lord, the close proximity Voldemort shares with him makes him see someone as something other than a servant

overtaking Hogwarts—through a series of complicated events, Voldemort obtains a new body and overtakes Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic in his new body, and ends Harry Potter’s life at last

dancing—Voldemort’s musical numbers reveal that he is both artistic and has a special sort of flair for torture which he will no doubt incorporate into his new regime


Significance to Other Characters

Quirrell—though Voldemort’s initial vessel seemed as different from him as could be, their time shared together allowed them to become close, even friends, and even something more (and I ship it so hard)

Harry—Harry is, as always, the main goal behind Voldemort’s destruction; however, even after Harry dies he returns and kills Voldemort right back (ish)

Dumbledore—as you might expect from an irreverent and borderline-abusive headmaster, Dumbledore does his best to help Harry find a way to kill Voldemort and then departs for Mars with Rumbleroar

Draco—like in the books, Voldemort enlists Draco to kill Dumbledore, but when Draco eventually fails, he joins forces with Harry, Ron, and Hermione so that in the end he helps defeat Voldemort


Big Idea

humorous—Voldemort is a scary dude, but he gets played for laughs a lot. He’s not like his canon counterpart: he dances, he deals with romantic drama, and he’s kind of depressed. The ludicrousness of this characterization is what makes him so endearing.

same actions, different person—on that note, it’s interesting that this Voldemort is so endearing when he doesn’t behave differently than the canon. He killed Harry’s parents, split his soul into seven parts, and intends to eliminate muggle blood from the gene pool. This Voldemort is a different person, though, because he conceptualizes and reacts differently to the same crimes we tie to his name.

human—Voldemort has one key difference contributing to the former ideas. He still has the ability to love. Rather than taking away from the force of his character, this makes him morally complicated and unpredictable, so that he goes through the story as much a dynamic character as Harry. We have a vested interest in his fate. Isn’t that odd?

I like this Voldemort better.

The canon Voldemort has gradually lost my esteem over the years because of that key element of his character: he is unable to love. Sucks to be conceived under the influence of a love potion. Not only does that part of the worldbuilding open the door to a lot of psychopaths in the wizarding world, but it makes Voldemort an idea instead of a character. Rowling’s Voldemort is evil, end stop. He has been doomed to be unloving, prejudiced, and power-hungry from birth, and that sums up the beginning and end of his character.

I think that’s kind of sloppy. Would it kill the story to give Voldemort a little nuance—not with a tragic backstory, but with morally gray behavior?

That’s what we see in AVPM. We have a villain who finds joy in dancing, has a fling with Bellatrix Lestrange, and finds love inside a body that isn’t his. His soul is in shreds and yet he is just as human as Harry Potter and he still wants to kill muggles and muggle-borns because he can. He doesn’t have the canon Voldemort’s logical justifications—he just lives for this chaos. He loves. He feels compassion. He needs affection and support like anybody. And murder and destruction enflame his very soul.

You tell me—which character scares you more?

Have you seen A Very Potter Musical? Who was your favorite character?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Would You Want to Forget Your Favorite Books?

girl with book
Flickr Credit: Tom Martin
Perhaps you have seen this sentiment floating around:

“I wish that I could forget my favorite series so I could read it for the first time again.” [insert dreamy sigh here]

Usually I ignore such silliness, but the last time I saw someone say it, I was annoyed. Annoyed enough to talk about it. Because why on earth would this appeal to anyone? (Also, I needed to write something for today.)

I would never, ever want to forget my favorite series—any of them—simply for the same of enjoying them for the first time again.

I wouldn’t enjoy them the same way. I wouldn’t! I first encountered many of the books I call favorite when I was younger and less well-read. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to bash my younger self or books written for younger audiences. I just have a very different perspective now. When I bring up Harry Potter, it’s to express my frustration with its fascist government. When I discuss Ranger’s Apprentice, it’s to bemoan the sexism therein. I even struggle to muster enthusiasm for my favorite series, H.I.V.E., sometimes—there are SO MANY ADVERBS and it drives me bazonkers. I’ve liked these books. I still like these books. But part of my willingness to love them comes from a respect for the perspective I had when I first read them—a perspective I wouldn’t have now.

On that note, I made these books my favorites, and me alone. The books had something good in them that made me latch onto them, but simply being good doesn’t make a book worthy of my favorites shelf. I have to reread these books. Learn them. Adventure with them. Think and ponder and want and dream and hope and fangirl. I love this book because I’ve traveled with it—and who’s to say that I’ll have an equally enchanting journey once I forget the story? I’m grateful for what I’ve already got, thanks.

Also, forgetting your favorite series to enjoy it again seems a little vague. How much of the series do you lose? Do you lose just the events of the text? Do you entirely forget the characters? Do you forget things about the days when you read those books? Do you lose every memory you have associated with that book? Will you ever get those memories back? I realize that such questions remove all the fun from an innocent, what-if wish. But the answers actually matter to me. Being a reader has been important to me for a long time—I have made close friendships through books. I have drawn closer to certain family members through books. Books have offered life lessons and inspiration and influenced who I am today.

Forgetting books could make me forget meaningful parts of my life, and even parts of myself. Does that really seem like a good idea to anyone? (If it does, please do read More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. He might help.)

Reading a book for the first time is a magical experience, and something to be treasured when you find a book that is really, really good. I know that it’s something we want to remember because it’s meaningful to us as readers. But I think that’s the point of a first experience—it’s something that can’t be replicated, and that’s what makes it special. To replicate that experience would, in a way, dishonor the very point of first reads. And also be kind of irresponsible and silly, in my opinion.

We begin our journey with books as one person. We end as another. We don’t have to like it, but I think we have to embrace it anyway. Otherwise, how will we read? How will we reread? And why will it matter?

What is one book you’ve read that you never want to forget?