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?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Top 15 of 2016

You may recall that last year I published my “Top 15 of 2015,” and since increasing the number of books you can highlight indefinitely seems silly to me, I’m sticking to the same pattern as I did last year. I read 201 books during 2016, but I will promote my favorite fifteen. All my reactions are confined to 100 characters or less, not including spaces.

And, as before, these are in order by author’s last name.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton—an adorable book about adorable warriors that kind of reminds me of Tangled, now that I think about it.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black—contemporary fantasy is my jam, and all of the romance, and the twins are so enticing. Which is why I got it for Christmas.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duvyis—wow. This might be the most powerful book on my list, and I must reread it, because DISASTER and DIVERSITY blow my mind.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton—after six years to think about it, I still favor Darry, but I have more sympathy for the other boys now.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis—MURDER? And LUTHERANS? And FEMINISM? What more could I ask for from a contemporary?

The Host by Stephenie Meyer—this was a blast. I wasn’t sure what I’d think, but I was really impressed with the sci-fi romance vibe. And yaaas aliens.

Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer—this was actually amazing, especially because I started to see prejudices I didn’t even know I had. Also, SQUEE.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson—ALL Y’ALL MADE ME THINK NOAH DIED WHEN HE WAS THIRTEEN OR SOMETHING. This was amazing, but c’mon, “tragedy” is so vague.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath—this is a terrifying and depressing book. But Plath just writes like a bedazzling machine, and I like the shinies.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler—okay: haikus, about boobs, read by Sir Patrick Stewart. There, I just made your 2017.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby—this is probably the most interesting Hades/Persephone retelling I’ve read in a long time. And the characters rock.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo—despite potentially problematic tropes, it was fast-paced and fluffy enough for this girl.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab—Schwab is hit-and-miss with me, so I was pleased to find this book FABULOUS. Monsters and music are so delicious.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley—having written an essay about how incest is key to all the main relationships in this book, I cannot leave it off.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker—I don’t know what to praise about this book that hasn’t been praised before. Still need to listen to the musical.

Interestingly enough, my top books are all by ladies this year. And that does not bother me, even a little bit! I look forward to reading similarly awesome books over this next year.

What about you? What were the best books you read in 2016?