Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dreaming of bookshelves

Because I am a bibliophile, I am drooling over a shelving and storage sale at a local hardware store. I am dreaming about someday--when I live in something bigger than 385 square feet and above the poverty level--having awesome bookshelves made of steel (able to hold 500 lbs. per shelf), structural foam (250 lbs. per shelf), or resin (150 lbs. per shelf) and not flimsy, slowly bowing plywood (20 or 40 pounds per shelf).
I mean, I could easily double stack on every shelf of these monsters! Including the top shelf! I'm a bit giddy just thinking about it, so it's a good thing I'm sitting down.

I guess I would have to find out how much the big kid bookshelves weigh and how hard they are to transport/put together, but since I don't know, I can dream with complete freedom. Le Sigh . . . .

My apartment is kind of a book death trap, and I live in fear of the day one of these overburdened shelves gives up the ghost and rains death and destruction and books on my floor. I am most concerned about the books. What if they get damaged? What if it happens early in the day, and by the time I get back to pick them up in my loving arms, they are permanently crippled, irreparably creased from hours of being bent beneath their own weight?! The agony!!

Do you have any future book shelf dreams?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Psyching you out, Sherlock

What if Sherlock Holmes lived in modern times, and no one would believe his awesome "deductive" reasoning?  What would he have to resort to in order to get modern police to take him and his ideas seriously? 

I wonder if he wouldn't have to pretend to be psychic, like the main character of the TV show Psych.  Raised with fearful powers of observation by a strict father on the police force, Shawn Spencer has finally found a way to use his powers for good AND tick off his dad at the same time.

One of the best things about this show is the continuing storyline interaction between Shawn and his dad.  They don't get along, but they really care about each other, and their awkward interactions are really a treasure.  Then there's Shawn's relationship with best friend Gus.  As the production staff comments over and over again: they've been friends forever and will sell each other out at the drop of a hat.  Kind of priceless sometimes, especially considering how low the budget for this show apparently is. 

If you ever wondered what it would be like if Sherlock Holmes was a comedy that follows a sharp boy who really never grew up and his goofy, nerdy best friend since childhood (not exactly Watson) as they solve mysteries and pretend to be psychic, check Psych out.  Even if you never wondered, it's worth a watch, not for the mystery but for the banter and character relationships.  (And the commentaries, which are sometimes astonishingly funny and informative.)

Man solves mysteries using mostly powers of observation: this situation is quite different depending on what "genre" it's set in, and I find that fascinating.

I bet if Gus told Shawn the world was round, Shawn would get mad at him, too.

Are there any TV shows you like where the set-up for an older story seems ported into a new time and place with interesting results?  Or, if you're a Psych fan, do you have any episodes to recommend for the new viewer?

Friday, March 26, 2010

When everything falls: Finding Beauty in a Broken World

It's a good think I put off reading Terry Tempest Williams' Finding Beauty in a Broken World until after I finished my thesis because she does what I was trying to do better than I could. She takes the idea of mosaic and weaves actual mosaic making and art into her story of trying to piece together something meaningful out of the fragments that are left of our lives when everything falls apart. As soon as I finish the memoir I'm reading right now, I will dive in to this, and I will have plenty of tissues.

When life shatters you, make a mosaic.  Good advice.  :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yuri's Blessing

"Yuri" is what I call one of our regular customers even though that's not his name. For a long time, I could not remember his real name, and I knew a man with a similar accent named Yuri. I think.

He is from eastern European and speaks with a wonderful, peanut-butter-thick accent that he wholeheartedly enjoys using. He is lonely, gregarious, and now attached to a cane he looks at with distaste. His hair and short beard are neat and white, his humor is gently dry, and he reads voraciously (always has a new book he heard about and wants to discuss).

He loves children; I learned this at the same time I indelibly learned his real first name. A baby was being fussy, and the mother was calling his name to soothe him, and "Yuri" stepped over to ask what the baby's full name was.

"That's my name, too," he told the baby with a quick grin. He then went on to explain to the parents how his name was the eastern European equivalent of the baby's. "It's not a popular name like it was back when I was born," he told them. They were nice people, and they let him talk. I think it helped that the baby, also fascinated by his accent, quieted down when he spoke.

"I hope you grow up to have as good a life as I have," he said to the baby, and then the family left the store.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sketches of retail customers, part 1

"Hey, there, gorgeous," he leered as he looked through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.  He didn't quite make eye contact; he never really does.  He looks off to the right a little, at the floor, so sometimes you're not sure he's talking to you. 

He's one of our regulars.  A younger man, kind but a little faded, always accompanies him and, I suspect, guides and keeps an eye on him. 

The older man shuffles, extremely stiff, but if the other man isn't leading him, he stops, like a robot turned off.  They usually sit in an alcove somewhere.  The younger man gets up to get coffee sometimes, or to briefly look at merchandise.  They never stay for very long.  The old man always leaves behind Sports Illustrated Swimsuit or GQ or Esquire or Penthouse (or some combination of all of these).

The first time he made inappropriate comments (the first time I saw him), I was offended, and then I realized he's actually kind of a crazy old man who's not all there.  I felt a little guilty for getting so mad.  By now, I realize it's a spinal reflex for him.  I write it off as expected and try to stay out of his field of vision.

Today, I got blindsided, and he made his usual creepy comment.  I turned at the sound and faced them but did not react.  I kept walking.

"Is that a boy or a girl?" he asked the younger man in a quavery, slightly hurt, overly loud voice.

"It's a girl," the younger man answered quickly. 

This cracked several of my co-workers up later (and will probably make my poor mother sad).  The man is infamous in our store.

"You should report this to a manager," one of the newer employees who hasn't encountered this odd couple said.

And I wondered.  His comments are unwelcome and inappropriate.  They make us all feel uncomfortable and awkward.  Our managers should protect us from problem customers like that.  But, then again, he's not all there. 

I guess I feel like I should put up with it because he doesn't mean anything by it because he's not in full control of his faculties. Is it appropriate to get mad?  To seek protection?  If everyone did that, the poor guy would never be allowed to get out in public.  Should we put up with a bit of uncomfortableness for the well-being of others?

I was thinking about this from a writing perspective.  Who should we (be allowed to) exclude from the public view and why?  This has changed over time and is different across cultures.  What an odd way to start thinking about it again . . .

Friday, March 19, 2010

The grass is browner

No matter how sorry you're feeling for yourself, there is always someone in a much worse situation.  I kind of can't believe this, but then again, I kind of can, and it makes me really want to seriously consider becoming a hermit or a monk.  What other laws have consequences like this that we aren't hearing about?

It's like something out of a dystopian future novel nightmare.  Be sure to read the more full account from the victim, but the basic deal is that a guy got stopped at a random inspection at the Canadian border, asked why, ended up being hit in the face and pepper sprayed and is now a convicted felon.  He's an author of science fiction, which has a rather close relationship with dystopian future nightmare novels, so he's aware of the precedents, but I bet he never expected to be victimized quite like this.

Should a law like this that takes away our civil rights be allowed to exist? 

We're not even talking about war time or because of suspicious activity here.  He was randomly stopped, probably like we had to randomly screen people coming through security checkpoints when I worked for the government. We did not do it because we suspected them of wrong-doing; we did it because they were the Xth person through the metal detector.  We always had to be alert in case our randomness caught a real baddie, but not this kind of alert (which reminds me of a kind of alert Dave Barry mocked in a particularly memorable article about dogs who alertly watched a thief break in and steal their masters' stuff), the kind of "alert" that hits people in the face for asking perfectly logical questions and assuming they have rights, the kind of alert that feels justice is served by this outcome.

I'm more than a tad disturbed by this.  Any thoughts from you on it?  (Feel free to comment anonymously, since Big Brother may be watching . . .)

This month's author binge: Cleary

I am going to have to have a Louise Erdrich binge sometime soon.  Right now, though, I'm on a Beverly Cleary kick. 

I'm still trying to work out ways to tell a really non-dramatic slice of life story through the eyes of a quirky 12-year-old girl.  I think, from all the reviews I've been reading, that Cleary knows quirky and kids voices.  Even if the ages aren't quite right, I think there will be value in immersing myself in the voices and stories.  They're also short and fun, so it will not be a chore. 

Sorry, Louise, you'll have to join Mrs. L'Engle on the backburner for now, but I know you're there, and I'll be coming for you as soon as I get a better job and have some time freed up from job-hunting and applications and rejection to read more again.

Do you have any suggestions of books with great, quirky, young point-of-view characters?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nonfiction at its most entertaining: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose was a student at an Ivy League university working for a famous journalist when he met some young people from Liberty University and proceeded to have an awkward, embarrassing conversation with them.  A sort-of Quaker, he realized he didn't actually know any evangelical Christians and found out that most people don't either.  He wondered if this fact was related to the way evangelicals were portrayed in the media and demonized by the culture.  He started to wonder what it would be like to study their world from the inside, to humanize his image of them.  And so, he decided to study abroad for a semester as an undercover journalist.

This outstanding book is the result.  Clear-eyed (he's very up-front about his biases from the start) and passionately observant, he chronicles his semester at Liberty with all its ups and downs and the always quietly-humming tension of not wanting to get caught and wondering if he'll end up brainwashed.  The book even ends well (as in, he didn't fumble in the end).

Because he is an outsider, Roose has a unique perspective to bring to the Christian table, a fresh and curious way of looking at things and trying to find out why and then acknowledging their absurdity while still taking them seriously enough to examine them closely.

One thing that impressed me was Roose's desire to seek out the why behind the action and his sensitivity to understand some things most Christians I know probably don't.  For example, he realizes that the moral problem with masturbation isn't the act itself but the lustful thoughts and desires associated with it.  He realizes that if one wants to control one's lust, there are certain things one shouldn't look at or think about, and then he just avoids those things (all for the sake of journalism).

He doesn't understand some things most Christians I know probably also don't.  Why do evangelical Christians lean so hard on the Bible as the basis for their morality when it puts them into conflict with everyone else? he wonders.  Why do they pick on gay people so much?  He doesn't seem to understand that if both sides don't have the same moral code, they can't really have a successful debate about a moral issue. 

Both sides will have to agree to disagree on homosexuality because, if one side won't accept that "the Bible is against it" is a debate-ender, then we really shouldn't start the debate.  It only leads to name calling and hurt.  Which brings me to the second question: why so much verbal gay-bashing? 

It seems to me that when Christians pick on gay people, it's because they don't know the Bible and how it teaches us the difference between how we are to view each other within the church and outside of it.  Inside the church, we are called to love and judgment.  Outside, we are called to love.  The "unsaved" are going to sin because they are not working with the same foundation we are (and they don't have the Holy Spirit to guide and help), so there is no point in judging them (and persecuting them) for behaving like they are unsaved. 

I just wish someone could have explained that to him in the book. 

Why gay people at all?  Why not adulterers and fornicators, too?  Some would say because homosexuality is more obvious, more flamboyant, and that's why it takes so much heat (aim at an "easy" target).  But I know Christians living together and having sex before marriage who think their behavior is not a sin.  "At least we're not gay . . ."

Does there always have to be a target?  Is that part of human nature?  (You'll enjoy the section where the Liberty students are slamming the even more conservative colleges like Pensacola.  Just don't be drinking or eating anything when you read that bit or the additional research Roose did into the topic.)

There are plenty of other highlights, some shocking (not shocking to be shocking, just honest observations that might make you feel quite ashamed due to guilt by association if you are a Christian), some sad, some cute, and a lot hilarious.  I felt very convicted and informed and moved to rethink many things.  I also laughed out loud frequently.  He manages to capture the fish-out-of-water vibe so well . . .

Anyway, if you are an evangelical Christian or you know one, or you've only heard of them, you should read this book.  It will open your eyes and engage your mind and make you want to talk about it and entertain you all at the same time.  Not bad for a book.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rules for writers?

Lovely and inspiring article in two parts.  Lots of famous author people were asked for 10 rules for writing fiction, and they responded. 

I have to say I really do appreciate Leonard's answers.  I like it when someone says, "Don't do this unless you can do it successfully like this person in this book."  In fact, I love it when people give specific examples like these.  It's like a writing gold mine!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Books I'm going to love this April: A Conspiracy of Kings

The next Megan Whalen Turner book is coming out, and I am more than a tad excited to go back into the highly charged world that began with The Thief all those years ago, took me through the ringer with Queen of Attolia, and totally won my heart with the politics and subtle romance of King of Attolia.

I didn't know if there was going to be a next book after King came out.  In fact, I only started reading the series when King came out because I thought it was the last book in a trilogy.  Then it ended, and I needed to know more, but I heard nothing for years, and I began to despair that no sequel would come.  No new adventures in this world I love: too sad to contemplate.

And then, a title.  No data on whether it was a new series or part of the old one.  For months, I agonized.  And then, yes!  A kid who was an aristocrat who never wanted to rule has to choose between his somewhat comfortable life as a slave and a chance to save the people he loves (or die trying).

Turner uses a different point-of-view for each of her books, and I love how well she pulls it off.  The point-of-view she picks is the organic one, the only one that will make the story work, the one that will tell you most about the characters you love from a new perspective.  It makes me tingly.  :)

I'm not sure if my favorite characters will really be making much of an appearance in this book, but, to be honest, I don't care because Megan Whalen Turner wrote it.  I will most likely love it.  She will, no doubt, surprise me time and time again.  And, as an added bonus, I will have to go back through the whole series since one of the main characters from this book was a side-character in the first, and I totally don't remember him at all.

At least I know to bring extra tissues for Queen.  Man, that was rough.  And cathartic.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Robert Frost in the news?

Best Robert Frost Reference in a Newspaper Headline So Far This Year Award Nominee:

"Sometimes, even good fences aren't enough"

What do you think the article was about?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The wait will (probably) be over eventually, and it will be worth it (I dearly wish)

In the saga for the long-awaited book II by Patrick Rothfuss, progress has been made.  I found this update post interesting for the light it sheds on the publishing process and its illuminating look at how ridiculously large the manuscript he's juggling with is. 

Also, cute baby pictures to illustrate massiveness of manuscript = synergistic awesome.

Rothfuss is a meticulous craftsman and an engaging world-builder, and he's writing an epic.  Don't wait to read the first one until the second one is done (or the third and final one) because you (or Rothfuss) might die first, and The Name of the Wind is worth reading right now for its musical prose and breathtakingly sprawling, humorously unexpected, perfectly-crafted story. 

Seriously, go get it now.  I can wait.  Talk to me after you've read it.  Then we can wait together in agony for The Wise Man's Fear.  The more, the merrier, heh heh hehhhhh.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reviews that look beyond the surface

"Nothing really makes sense, mind, but one of the themes of the story is a commentary on the limited nature of science and what humans can see, so it’s not setting out to make sense, it’s trying to do something different."
I read this comment in a review, and I really liked it.  I like when a reviewer doesn't simply dismiss and hate on a book but actually tries to understand the purpose of the story, which may not be to be a perfect, traditional book. 

Another review I read here told me something about the structure of the work that blew my mind.  The story involved someone training to become a professional opera singer, and apparently, the plot was structured in such a way as to mirror classical opera plots.  What a great review, much better than the ones I've read that complain about how the plot isn't in any standard structure (and thus sucks).  This careful reviewer looked beyond the surface and into the purpose of the crafting.

I understand that it may not be possible for a writer to do that with every book reviewed.  It may not even be the reviewer's purpose.  I love liking things and trying to understand them, so it makes sense that I would prefer to read reviews written by people who like something and rhapsodize about its virtues while not making false claims about its perfection.

If I ever publish, I'll value one thoughtful review like these (even if they don't like it, as long as they look carefully) more than ten that fail to kindly look beyond the surface.  Just remind me of that if I'm freaking out over a shallow, dismissive, hate-fest review.  (I hope to be able to own those reviews like John Scalzi does.)

Have you read any reviews that made you rethink your opinion of a book you've read and apparently not understood?