Friday, December 30, 2011

Rereading Miles: The Wisdom of Cordelia

Rereading Cordelia when I'm nearly her age is a strange experience.  She always seemed so mature and wise when I was younger, and now that I'm closing in on her age when we first meet her in Shards of Honor, I think I'm even more impressed by her wisdom because I don't feel anything like it in myself.  Maybe next year? 

Of course, our life experiences are, you know, different.  She's a fictional character who lives in a far future sci-fi world, and there's a war going on and stuff, but her wisdom about people and her ability to forgive when necessary (and her ability to know when something else is called for and then follow through with it) are universal traits.  She truly does pour out honor like a fountain. 

My fountain is certainly less infinite and much more sludgy and often broken.  I often feel more like a pool for the grace of God.

Have you ever read a book frequently enough to know this odd feeling of creeping up on characters who don't age?  It's kind of like what happens when you read Sunday comics that are frozen in time, I suppose.  Or that feeling of knowing people who died young and are thus frozen in time at that age.  Anyway, it's an interesting experience. 

I wonder what I will think of Cordelia when I read one of her books and am older than she is.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mars descending out of season

Mars descending out of season

The moon tonight
absolutely impossible
like a science fiction special effect
slinking along the horizon

terrifying, enormous, glaring
like a one-eyed Mars
descending to hunt
on the earth himself

his single blood-gold eye
glimpsed in flashes as he runs
through the trees pacing me
too many trees in the way

I want to find a hill
cold be damned and stare
back at him drink in my fill
not blinking until he does

Friday, December 9, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Christian (not making this up)

It's called Night of the Living Dead Christian.  It promises comedy theology.  And my parents gave it to me for my birthday.  This is one I'm really looking forward to reading. : )

Once again, the comments on John Scalzi's site were fairly entertaining, as well.   The author even responded in a way that I found intriguing and funny; I hope my expectations aren't too high . . .
Matt Mikalatos says:
October 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Michael Langlois @ 12:58

I haven’t gotten any real criticism from my friends, but they know me well enough to know my point of view. I will say, as Jerry @3:09 mentioned, that the mention of religion in general seems to make people think they have the right to set up their freak flags on your front lawn. I’ve had angry emails from strangers, certainly. Also… a guy claiming to be Jesus wrote me, but that’s a whole other story.

3 common issues from the Christians who don’t like how I deal with theology in my novels:

1. “I don’t get it.” They genuinely don’t understand what is going on. Is this pro-Jesus or anti-Jesus or what?

2. “Could you write me an essay?” In the absence of obvious, point by point, essay style theology, some readers are unable to discern what is being said. And since I shy away from outright didacticism in my fiction, this can be an issue. These are also the folks who generally don’t like that the books are designed more to wrestle with questions than provide answers….

3. “Making fun of Christians = making fun of Jesus.” Which is obviously not true. I’m pretty sure Jesus is making fun of some Christians right now. In a really loving way.

I get completely different mail from people who aren’t Christians, but those are the issues that seem to come up most from the more religious readers.
I'll let you you know if I think it's comedy theology gold.  That's a genre that certainly isn't well-populated . . .

Monday, December 5, 2011

What is reading (all) about for you?

"Isn't reading all about learning about OTHER people?"
- Helene November 16, 2011 6:01 AM at Andrew Smith's blog

This quote intrigued me.

I do love to read for the chance to learn about The Other and see things not as much from my own point of view.  When I read a couple of Suzanne Fisher Staples's books about a girl and young woman in Pakistan, I was stunned and amazed at all the things I had never even thought about considering before.  Books are about the only place where I can sort of get out of my own head and try to wrap it around the stories and ideas of others.

I disagree with this quote.

(I tell my students that absolute words like "all" are warnings.)  I think I've learned more about me in books than I have anywhere else.  Maybe some books have shaped me, but I feel like more often than not I've met pieces of myself in many books.  (Oh, that's not a portrait on the wall; it's a mirror.)  Identifying with someone in the book is not an absolute requirement for me to enjoy the book; I'm not a Method reader.  It's just that I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy because they come at reality and humanity from a slant, and sometimes that makes insights easier to see and handle, and sometimes those insights are about real, human me.

What do you think?

If this were a continuum, would you skew more towards the "others" end or the "me" end?  Or do you whipsaw between them?  Skate calmly up and down the line?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Go make some art even if it's bad

A while back, one of my Facebook friends posted a really inspiring quote about the need for humans to make art with abandon, even (and sometimes especially) if it's not great art.  So many people are afraid of making bad art that they stop making any art at all, and that seems sad to me.  (Of course I didn't copy it down.)  The act of creating has value even if every attempt doesn't lead to a masterpiece.

Then Patrick Rothfuss came along and wrote this version of the same idea.

Q. As an aspiring writer, how do I overcome my gripping fear of failure?

A. You come to grips with the fact that writing something that sucks is better than writing nothing at all. 

There's more at the link, but that concise summary made me laugh.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Which authors would you thank?

Patrick Rothfuss was not posting on his blog for a while.  Honestly, I have been too busy working two jobs to really even notice.  We both have good excuses not to be writing as much as we might want to, but I think his is better.  As much as we want the writers we love to spend all their time writing their next book so we can read it sooner, it's important that we realize they may have very good reasons not to be meeting our demands. 

Most authors aren't as forthcoming about it as Rothfuss is.  Rothfuss' honesty is one of the reasons why he's one of my favorite authors.  His skill is one of the reasons why publishers and readers are willing to cut him slack as we slaver impatiently for his next book, which will be a million pages long.  I am always willing to wait a bit longer if the result is something worth the wait.  Whether the reason is writer's block or the illness of a family member, cut your favorite author some slack.  Maybe write to thank him or her without asking, "More, please?"

Speaking of which, I need to write that thank you letter to Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my other favorite authors).  It is Thanksgiving this week, after all . . .

Which authors would you write thank you letters to if you had the time and the address?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

a problem with writing a certain kind of poetry

A problem with writing poetry
is that quite often the people
you are writing to aren't
people who read poetry.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Permission and Influence, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 5 of 5

Last time I talked a bit about strategies parents have regarding their kids' reading.  I advocated parental involvement to teach discernment, which seems to me like the best choice, especially for religious parents.  It puzzles me, then, that many religious parents are loudly anti-book.

I've always wondered why so many evangelicals are so hysterical about certain books.  I mean, I can see why they might get a bit bent out of shape about Philip Pullman's obvious God-hating in the His Dark Materials Trilogy (amazing books though they are) because it's hard for any parents to try to explain hatred to their kids in a way that's not stupid and trite. 

I never really understood the backlash against Harry Potter, though.  It was especially embarrassing to have friends at my decently-academically-ranked Christian liberal arts college forwarding around an Onion article (about Harry Potter making kids into real-life witches) as proof that HP was really a conspiracy of the devil.  (Pardon me while I relive the shame and try to move on again.  It hurts.)  Maybe if their parents or teachers had taught them about critical reading, they, too, would have been able to tell that the "arguments" in said article were a steaming pile of crap from a logic standpoint even if they didn't know what The Onion is (hint: not a credible source).

I never had a difficult time separating fiction from reality.  Well, on behalf of my mother, let me rephrase:  I never had a hard time separating fiction books from reality.  Apparently, many children do.  At least, they are accused of having a hard time with this by adults.  Lots of adults.  So it must be true, right?  So we need to keep them firmly grounded in the real world by preventing them from getting all these fanciful notions in their heads in the first place.  Burn the books!  Or ban them!  Or hide them away in the far tower of the castle where Aurora will never, ever go and get a paper cut and curse us all.

Some argue that fiction books don't influence people; books don't change minds and opinions.  They might make you re-examine or re-think, but they don't really have anything to do with changing your mind.  I've heard this argument from hard-core bibliophiles, often when they are arguing against anything they call censorship (including wacky things like not wanting your 8-year-old to read a Playboy magazine or a novel for young adults that deals with lust and sex).  Books are harmless, they seem to be arguing.  Books don't kill people; people kill people.  That sort of thing.

These same people likely have a list of books that changed their lives.  I certainly do.

Ideas can change people's minds, and books are full of ideas: that's why people think books are dangerous.  Is this something evangelicals acknowledge as true that many non-evangelical readers don't want to acknowledge?  What's wrong with just admitting it?  Does acknowledging the power mean acknowledging some sort of adult responsibility about it? 

Some think that if ideas are dangerous, then we need to protect our kids from the wrong ideas (the ones we disagree with).  Some folks take that to extremes and try to isolate their kids from those wrong ideas, leaving them ill-prepared to deal with the ideas that are all over the place in the real world they will have to live in more or less when they become adults themselves.  Unprepared, these idea-starved people can tend to rebel because they feel they've been deceived their whole lives (possibly starting with Santa Claus).  Others tend to isolate themselves further in the cloud of not-knowing because if they don't acknowledge something, that means it doesn't really exist and they don't have to take it seriously, right? 

From observational evidence alone, I don't think isolation is the solution to controlling dangerous ideas.  I think helping kids develop sharp minds that can engage with ideas and test what is good sounds like a better idea.  But it's a lot of work.  I know discernment is a lot of work for me; teaching it to children as they grow up seems genuinely daunting. 

Just because it's insanely difficult doesn't mean we should avoid it.  We're the grown-ups here.  We should lead by example.  Maybe the world would be a better place if we encouraged each other to read widely including books from viewpoints we don't agree with or haven't encountered before because ideas start conversations inside and outside of us.  Critically engaging with ideas can lead us to new insights that change us and help us love others more because no longer are we complete strangers.

I'm not sure how I got here from a little blog post about a book that possibly got rejected for questionable reasons, but thank you for starting me down this path, people who posted the original bit (even if it arose from a misperception on your part).  I appreciate the paths you've lead me down, even if they were completely unintended.  Words have that kind of meandering power.  Thank God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who's Giving Your Kid Permission, Part 4 of 5 of a haphazard meditation on something

Last time, I talked a bit about the kinds of permission that books can give.  But what about parental involvement in reading?

There have been many YA books I've read as an adult that I've wished I could have read when I was younger because they would have given me options I wished I'd known I had.  I mean, I was a creative kid, but there are so many ideas out there that people have already had!  There's no need to reinvent the wheel all the time.  I'm no genius, so a lot of wheels never got reinvented.

It's not like when I read a book, I become a slave to its worldview and adopt it unthinkingly.  I test and challenge and work out what the idea implies, what it could mean and means.  I consider the possibilities.  I do this all mostly unconsciously at this point.  It's part of reading.  I can't really say my parents had anything to do with it, though.  They read to us and taught us to love reading as kids, and then they were mostly hands-off as we mowed down stacks of books way above our reading levels. 

When I started reading adult paperbacks (I won't even tell you how sad the library's YA section was because the tears will mess up the keyboard), my mom got a little concerned and forbade me from reading a couple of books based on the titles.  I still haven't read them, though I should have by now because by all reports, they're kind of incredibly amazingly good.  I asked her once about this one book I wasn't sure if I should read, but she was busy and uninterested and didn't read it, so eventually I did, and I was right to think I shouldn't read it, and that gave me the confidence to know that my discernment was quite functional.

Some argue for a totally hands-off approach to what their kids read.  The kids are reading, the theory seems to say.  Just leave them alone and do a secret happy dance in the kitchen that they're reading something voluntarily instead of "setting forest fires out of boredom."

Some argue for strict censorship.  Since this policy ends up being burdensome to parents, they just say no to reading outside of a very narrow list of cannon books approved by people of like minds.  To me, it seems like this approach likely leads to kids who won't be readers or will forever attach guilt to reading, and that seems sad.

I argue for teaching discernment, no matter what your religion or lack thereof.  Teaching kids to think critically and meaningfully engage what they read just seems like a good idea.  I mean, kids are people, and they won't be under parental control forever.  Isn't it better to give them the tools they need to engage the world on their own rather than try to control them, set them loose on an unfamiliar world, and then get angry when they can't navigate its unfamiliar waters?  If you suddenly toss your kid overboard after 18 years of tight-fisted land-dwelling, you can't blame the kid for not being able to tread water or swim to shore. 

There but for the grace of God go I.

Next time, I'll get into the murky territory of what it is the permission in books really means in the real world.  It will be long.  See you then.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Look, Ma, I'm in a Category, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 3 of 5

This is the third part of a sprawling, 5-part reflection started by what I found at this link.  Last time I thought a bit about about Religion and Diversity.  I challenged the integrity of people and the fiction they're willing to accept.

Speaking of acceptance, I have this other blog where I talk about my cheerful acceptance of my lack of desire to have sex with anyone.  I jokingly refer to myself as pretty much asexual.  I had no idea I was part of an actual acronym.
Nurul says: September 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

"Ooh, is that A in your QUILTBAG stands for asexual? Because if yes then thank goodness, someone remembers us! It seems like the world refuses to acknowledge that we exist."
Simple as that, apparently I have been categorized.  Now that I know the category exists, I cannot unknow it, so maybe I should find out about it. 
S.O. says: September 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm

there’s a few discussion communities on this topic:
There's even a Facebook group.  Hmmmm.  Is this a sign of the Apocalypse?

As amazing as it is that I am suddenly in a category with a Facebook group, I was more amazed when one of the commenters said there was actually a YA book or two with a prominent asexual character (Kevin from Guardian of the Dead and the protagonist of Elizabeth Bear’s Dust).  Honestly, I never thought there would be a YA book with a prominent asexual character if I didn't write it.

Who would have thought it?!  Aren't YA books (and our culture) so driven by the idea that sex is a biological necessity (and that hormones rule all when one is a teenager) that one might wonder what teen would want to read a book where there was no possibility of sex at all?  I mean, what would be the point?  I think I'll have to read these books to find out whether the other characters provide the requisite sexual lust.  I promise I'm not really this cynical; I'm exaggerating a bit.

It's true there are plenty of fictional examples of teens making good and bad lust-related choices.  What was missing were fictional examples of people who didn't even play that game as teenagers.  I sort of assumed they didn't exist except as the "broken" characters this commenter below described.
T. Arkenberg says: September 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

"As an asexual reader I’d feel most recognized if a character specifically identifies as not having sexual attraction to anyone, or as not intending to have any relationships and as being satisfied with that. Sometimes you’ll get a character who doesn’t want romance, but they’re often portrayed as ‘broken’ or coming down from a bad relationship, and they’ll be turned around by the right potential lover. An asexual character doesn’t need to be ‘healed’."
You know, that would have been kind of nice for me to read about when I was younger.  I never really had any role models of contented celibacy, real or fictional.  All the single people I knew considered themselves to be in (the sometimes long) transition to a state of non-singlehood.  (Or else they considered themselves utter failures as human beings despite the fact that they were wonderfully amazing people.)  I watched some of those people and wondered if they were just going through the motions of what was expected by their various cultures, like, maybe they didn't really want to have a boyfriend/girlfriend, but the culture had conditioned them to think that they were broken if they were not half of a whole, that if they did not feel this need, it was because of something they lacked that they needed to seek out, which created a false sense of longing.  I still wonder that.

I personally spent too much time combating those sad, sympathetic looks from otherwise intelligent folks who pitied me the brokenness they perceived even as I rejoiced in the freedom I had from certain kinds of drama they endured.  The idea of someone else being contentedly celibate never crossed our radars.

I wonder what (if any) difference if would have made for me if I had encountered anyone like me in the fictionverses.  I wonder if it really would have made any difference to be given permission to exist as I did.  I mean, I never really asked for permission.  (Or forgiveness, for that matter.)  But teens who aren't quite as self-assured/self-contained as I was, maybe they need a fictional trailblazer to lead the way.  Maybe they need to know that they actually have options other than the one they've been given in order for them to consider their situations and decide for themselves what option to choose . . .

What do you think?  Do you know any other folks who are in my category?  Do you know any who might have been if not for peer and societal pressure?  Do you think the existence of an asexual fictional character would have given them some sort of permission?

Stay tuned for Part 4 Who's Giving Your Kid Permission next week . . .

Monday, October 24, 2011

Religion and Diversity, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 2 of 5

This is part 2 of a 5-part series kicked off by this post.  Please pardon the draft-yness.


In the early responses to this kerfuffle, I came across the following comment, which made me happy.

"MM says:
September 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm

"What’s really needed is more authors willing to tackle gay-related viewpoints that don’t conform to the mainstream. The views and struggles of those who leave the lifestyle/choose to go on with their lives from a Christian standpoint and not give into gay urges and who are ex-gays should not be avoided or ignored. I can’t blame the libraries on that one, because I have a strong feeling that not many authors are willing to go there. But these viewpoints do exist and they need to be tackled. Libraries shouldn’t be afraid to get the ones that do come out, though, if they really want to be unbiased and cover all viewpoints. The same actually goes for nonfiction as well…there aren’t nearly enough.. . ."

And then this comment (and the subsequent slightly hysterical one bashing the post, which I will not repeat) made me so very sad.

"Editor’s note: I’m allowing this comment through because I think it’s honestly meant and not a troll. I request that commenters who disagree refrain from responding directly. Please keep this comments section a space for people to support diversity–even diversity of viewpoints you may find objectionable–and discuss the topic at hand."  MM 9/12

The problem being addressed included a lack of religious leanings in a typical YA protagonist, and now those who agreed that this was a problem were branding what seemed to me to be a respectful, enthusiastic, and in-tune-with-the-spirit-of-the-post comment as trolling because it expressed a religious viewpoint they didn't even want to give the time of day.  This kind of hypocrisy makes me tired.  If you're going to embrace diversity, you can't make exceptions like that, especially in a knee-jerk reflex fashion, or people can't take your "commitment to diversity" seriously.

The original authors and the blog owner who posted their statements were trying to raise awareness about how they perceive that certain viewpoints/opinions (that have to do with religion and other things) aren't permitted in mainstream YA fiction.  This commenter was agreeing and pointing out one that was missing.  For doing so, she got slapped by the blog owner in an indirect manner and by another commenter in a rather ugly and direct manner.  To give the blog owner credit, she was apparently right about how other people might take the post.  It's just sad that she had to step in to keep this discussion about why we need to be more open to discussions about religion in YA books from degenerating into incivility because someone brought up religion.

I agree with the original commenter: Christian teens wrestling with homosexuality and their faith and deciding on a course of action that leads to celibacy in order to exercise discipline and bring their lives into conformity with their beliefs and faith have nowhere to turn in YA fiction.  That perspective is not represented anywhere.  "Christian" publishers won't touch it in a meaningful and realistic way because it's too "liberal."  "Secular" publishers won't touch it in a meaningful and realistic way because it's too "conservative." 

No one will touch it.  No one will embrace it and publish something beautiful that will give Christian teens struggling with this issue validation that they are not alone in their struggles.  No voice will give an affirmation that these teens struggling with sexuality as they become adults need to contend with the issues thoughtfully and not just hide themselves away because people (and especially the church) don't want to talk about it because it's hard and divisive and painful.  No fictional character will help them realize the fact that they are part of a greater story.

I would read that book in a heartbeat.  I would recommend that book to lots of people, especially to people who went through that struggle alone when they were teens.  I believe there is value in reading about that kind of struggle written well even if you share none of the beliefs the protagonist has.  I thought that's what those who claim to believe in the need for increased diversity in YA fiction were saying.  I didn't realize they meant "except for conservative Christians who choose to buck the mainstream and choose to abstain from sex they believe is wrong."  I would like to believe that's not what they meant.  I would like to believe that they would give this book a fair shake, especially if they talk the talk of diversity.

Would you?


Stay tuned for part 3 coming later this week . . .

What Started It All, a haphazard meditation on something, Part 1 of 5

I came across this keruffle and found myself giving it a lot of thought.  The gist is that some authors believe that there is a thing that needs to be addressed in YA publishing: 

"The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward."

Quite interesting, I thought, and right on.  I have nothing wrong with the usual protagonists; I just think that when I read non-standard protagonists, I really like them.  Stoner & Spaz by Koertge comes to mind and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Farmer.  Don't forget Paterson's Sign of the Chrysanthemum or even Libba Bray's Going Bovine.  Different times, different places, different mental spaces: these are things I can only experience in books.  I love me some usual, but I also love me some unusual.

So there was that kerfuffle and rebuttals and comments and more rebuttals.  There are some great lists, too.  Feel free to get lost in it if you'd like, but be sure to come back for part 2 of this meditation where I think about religion and diversity and integrity.

Friday, October 21, 2011

a trade off

a trade off

Sometimes I think it's a good thing
I don't get enough sleep to remember

my nightmares, if I even have them,
but I miss remembering my dreams.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

normal 30-something woman concerns (not)

A little conversation I had with myself after the online course I teach distressingly lost all data on its sad little course site:

"Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I could just have normal 30-something woman concerns.  Y'know, not like wasp infestations or being crippled and unable to write what I want or not being able to get my grading done because of a conspiracy against me."

"What, exactly, are normal 30-something woman concerns?"

"Well, I dunno.  Clothes, interior design, children, and spouse/significant other/lack of significant other?  Or something."

"Have you ever been the least bit concerned about any of those things?"


"In the absence of the weird things, would you be any more likely to care about the normal things?"

"Not at all."

"Then you'd be really bored."

"No, just really well-read.  I think I could handle that."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ditching the Slacker Voice, an odyssey

In the immortal words of Relient K, "I so hate consequences."

Once upon a time, I adopted a more, shall we say, relaxed speaking voice. You see, I was a graduate school student in a choir full of undergraduates, and I was working a retail job, and my height and confidence, coupled with a somewhat precise speaking voice, large vocabulary, and decent diction seemed, shall we say, threatening at most and not very friendly at least to people I had to interact with every day.

My sister puts it this way, "You make people feel stupid sometimes."

I decided that since a lifetime of slouching hadn't really helped my height be less intimidating, maybe I should try to change my speaking voice, so I did. I adopted a lazy sort of tone, reduced my vocabulary outside the graduate program, and tried to sound more relaxed. Now I'm paying for it.

My voice has been getting more gravelly, and it takes an inordinate amount of time to warm it up for speaking or singing, and I thought it was because of being allergic to the Midwest. I went to see an ENT, and he prescribed some additional thankfully cheap things for the allergies. During the exam, he asked me five times, "Do you strain when you talk?"

Five times I answered, "No?"

After the fifth time, he said, "You strain when you talk. Want to go see a voice therapist?"

"Sure, " I said. It took a while, but I finally saw one. It turns out that I strain when I talk (shocker). After some discussion, it turned out that the main culprit is my slacker voice.

Sigh. You try to be less threatening to others and only hurt yourself. What a strange life lesson.

Because I'm a singer, the therapist told me I might be able to straighten out some of the damage on my own, especially since I knew what was causing it and since I don't need it for those reasons anymore (working a professional job and thus not able to participate in that choir anymore).

I can go back to sounding like an intelligent, professional person again. Hooray! So now, my goal is to ditch the slacker voice before it does any irreparable damage to my vocal cords and my singing voice. Welcome back, diction.

The thing is, after 8 years of the slacker voice, my vocal cords don't really know what the correct way to work feels like, so my throat is tired and still hoarse most of the time.  I don't really know if I'm actually making progress.  Also, I don't always think before I talk (a problem since birth, I think), so I'm not sure how long it will take to reprogram my speech patterns. (I pray not as long as it took to make them a habit.) Wish me luck!

Maybe I'll get an essay out of this someday . . .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's your score on NPRs top 100 sf/f books?

Neil Gaiman says it's not the best flowchart ever, but it is so very, very close.

What's your score out of 100?  What are your favorites that made it on the list?  Any you were surprised to see there?  Any you want to read but haven't gotten to yet?

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Name Is . . .

I was looking up the movie version of The Chosen, based on the book by Chaim Potok (a book that allowed me to forgive John Knowles for A Separate Peace).  I liked this cover with its baseball scene showing that the opening of the movie would probably match the book.  It reminded me of this old post, and I found myself wondering if anyone made a movie of my favorite Potok book: My Name Is Asher Lev.

It seems no such movie exists, and I find that I am glad.  I might love it as a miniseries or even a really good stage play, but I don't think I could love a movie version of Asher Lev. I'm not entirely sure why.

Anyway, in my search, I discovered a link to a thought-provoking essay about Potok, Asher, and art that I thought I'd pass on to you since art is probably important to you. 

One of my favorite quotes:

"Where their concept of holiness is too narrow to include the world of art, Kahn’s concept of art is too narrow to include the world of holiness."

Sounds regrettably about right . . .  It's most likely something all Christ followers who are makers of art wrestle with.  Why is that?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Did he just say that? Seriously?

Have you ever met someone who made you wonder, "Why did he say that?" every time he opens his mouth?  Someone you want to present with a shovel because every sentence is just digging him in deeper?

It's torturous. There's really no way to tell him what he is doing to himself, but you feel bad just walking away in the middle of his talking even though you know he's not trying to actually communicate and is just babbling because there are people trapped in chairs around him during this getting-to-know-you time.

He holds the entire table captive, making everyone uncomfortable with tales of all his past girlfriends who dumped him and married the next person they dated, which seems quite reasonable the more he talks because anyone would seem like a prince after him. He complains about being invited to the weddings and the ones he's still acquainted with and how much he loathes their children (he refers to them as "disgusting little rats").  He composes crass poetry and uses foul language liberally.

He is genuinely oblivious to the fact that every minute his mouth is moving is making the people around him dislike and eventually hate him even more. It's horrifying and fascinating at the same time . . .

Even Allie can't seem to figure out a way out of this kind of awkward conversation . . .

Sunday, September 18, 2011

HPDH2: bb

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.


Would have been even better if the scene where Harry is with Dumbledore in white place hadn't had a lawnmower going right outside the theater door.  Don't add your own soundtrack, indeed.

Me and the retirees all sitting in the theater, watching Harry Potter.  Maybe I should accept AARP's offer to join . . .  Or that single seniors dating email I keep getting for some reason.

Why did we choose 19 years for the epilogue?  I was kind of hoping to see Remus and Tonks' kid, but that would have been impossible with 19 years . . .

Oh, Snape.  You were amazing to the end.  And where did they find that little boy with the dead eyes to play you?  Holy cow!

The battle scenes were edited and put together perfectly.  Expansive enough to make you cry but not too drawn out.

So this was kind of amazing, even if I was a bit lost after all those months in between.  There were only a handful of scenes where I had to shake my head and say, "Why did we keep that bit?"  It was definitely not faithful to the letter of the book, but I think it was pretty faithful to the spirit of the book.  I'm lucky I don't really have to decide because it's been years since I read the book, so it's pretty hazy, which is just fine because it left me more time to admire this concluding movie.  Bravo!

I'm looking forward to a marathon some day.  Easier with the movies than the books these days . . .

Did you see it?  Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sad Songs of Hope

Once upon a time, a man's 5-year-old daughter died in an accident.  He was a singer and songwriter, so he wrote and sang songs as he continued to outlive his child and try to make sense of a world where such a thing could happen.

That's the kind of tragic story I'd cry through.  It makes for an album that requires tissues when reading its liner notes, hearing its songs, or even thinking about its liner notes or songs.

I won't lie: this is a painful story to listen to.  But it's also a painful story worth listening to.  Like the best literature, something worthy is there in the ashes.  There's grief and so much pain, but there is hope, too.  The rawness of the grief and pain make that hope feel true, not tacked on in fake, happy ending fashion. This is hope that has been through fire and been earned.

One very thorough review by divad23 said, 'What's an artist (or a listener, for that matter) to do when the harsh reality of life conflicts with the idyllic vision of it that most "sanctified" entertainment has provided for them?'

In a comment, Reg Schofield said, "One of my favorite pastors has said its his job to prepare his flock for death and suffering so that when it happens they will not fall apart . . . "

I suspect the story contained in this album can help do the same thing.

Sometimes you'll hear a song about grief, but it has to go through the whole process in 4 minutes and somehow end happily, or it will never get on the air.  Taking an entire album, hitting many different angles and stages, bringing the story to life chapter by chapter instead of just as a summary, doesn't let us escape the rawness of the pain, grief, and questions.  It forces us to face the fact that terrible things happen to everyone and that if our hope is in something true, it will survive whatever our stories take us through.

I picked this up during the last days of Borders.  It seems somehow appropriate.  I hope some beauty will rise from the ashes of that fiasco, especially in the lives of the decent employees who invested years of their lives into their stores and communities and now how to try to pick themselves up in the wake of their sudden loss of livelihood.  My prayers are with them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

3 Jaw Chuck and Other Piracies

Ahoy, mateys!  International Talk Like a Pirate Day is nearly here!  In honor of this festive occasion, I thought I would mention this amazing piece of mechanical engineering I came across at work and have decided to steal for the name of some throwaway character in a story some day.

"Who was THAT?!"
"That's 3 Jaw Chuck.  Heart of gold, really," she shook her head and grimaced.  "Terrible luck with axes, though, has Chuck."
"Ah," he said faintly.  "Yes."  He swallowed and looked back again.  "How is he alive?"
"Bit of a miracle, really."

All writers are thieves and pirates, as one of my mentors once said.  We steal any words that aren't nailed down and sail the world in search of treasures. 

Come across any good treasure troves lately?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Absorption v. Consumption

Excerpts from a conversation I had with a fellow reader:

"I read to absorb."
"I read to consume."
"You make it sound so . . .  There has got to be more value to reading than just shoving it down your throat like roughage."
"But there's so much to read . . ."

Do you read (for pleasure) to absorb or consume?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

an irrational fear of wasps

Sometimes the story does not go the way you plan.

The plan was to go home and collapse after training.  I was feeling ill, and there was a storm coming.  I was going to sort through files and watch the storm come in, maybe do some laundry if I felt up to it but otherwise relax and recuperate.

Then I saw the wasp.

I don't actually know if I'm really allergic to them, but they have always scared the bejeebers out of me.  Our basement used to be a haven for them.  Every spring, I would have to dodge the lurching zombie wasps coming to life as spring called to them even though it was still barely above freezing in our basement.

I have an irrational fear of wasps.  I think of them roughly the same way Allie thinks of spiders.  (Note the tattoos.)

And so I nearly ran down three flights of stairs and told the apartment manager about the wasp in the apartment and what I thought might be a wasp nest outside the window (I had thought it to be a bird's nest, but now I feared I was wrong).  Then I watched the wasp from the hall as it held me hostage.  For half an hour.  I prayed that it was a loner wasp with no friends at all.  An anorectic loner wasp, the only one of its kind able to squeeze through whatever hole/opening it had used to invade my home.

The manager sent the handyman up, and he whacked it and couldn't find the corpse and put in some more packing around the AC, which had lots of gaps after the last time he fixed it, apparently.  He was sorry he couldn't produce a corpse, but he whacked it pretty hard, so he was sure it was dead.  I want to see the body before I believe anything, but I know I have trust issues I need to work on, so I had to let him go when his phone rang the second time.

Later that night as the rains came down, I heard a familiar angry buzzing that sent a jolt of terror to the already not-feeling-so-hot pit of my stomach (also my spine and brain stem).  I turned around slowly, and there it was, dive bombing my recently turned on lights.  As soon as he moved away from the lights, I turned them off and looked at him.

No, it wasn't a zombie wasp; it was a recovered-from-near-death art-loving wasp hanging out around my painting where I couldn't kill it even if I wanted to, which I didn't, but it's not like I could call the poor maintenance guy back from his house  40 minutes away after hours just on the off chance that the thing might kill me overnight.

And so I stood in the hallway watching it and feeling sick and going through my options.  I could leave it alone and hope it left.  I could hide in my bedroom.  I could try to kill it, make it mad, and die.  I did not like any of these options.

After another half hour of being a hostage, I had enough.  I was not going to go hide out in my bedroom after stuffing something impenetrable in the two inch gap under the door.  (If I did that, I had no doubt he would be waiting for me the next morning in the bathroom, knife in hand and swastika tattoo firmly in place.)  I was going to kill the darned thing or quite possibly die trying.  I had files to sort, dagnabbit!

I moved furniture carefully out of the way, so that if I wounded him, I wouldn't have bits scattered on my couch or trapped behind something where once again, I could not confirm the death.  I kept both eyes on him at all times, but he was quite dedicated to art appreciation (I hope not a she laying eggs on my painting).

Space cleared, breathing ridiculously hard, and with a solid 2005 newspaper in hand, I turned on the light and lured the creature over to a whackable place.  Pushing down my fear (that if I did it wrong, the wasp would ride the breeze (of my failed whacking) up the newspaper and to my hand, where he would sting me, and I would die all alone, unable to even reach the phone to call for help), I whacked that thing like I my life really depended on this one blow. 

Then I pathetically took eight tries to brush him off the bookshelf with the humorously shaking newspaper onto the floor where I placed the newspaper nervously on top of him like a shroud, watching for any signs of sudden resurrection, and then stomped the ever living crap out of him just to be sure.  Controlling my ridiculous almost-sobbing, I then took the newspaper out into the hallway and left it there.  Yep, I didn't even have to worry about trying to scoop him off the floor, whimpering the whole time.  He was one with the newspaper.

I didn't even want to put it in the trash in my apartment because what if he came alive again or all his friends came seeking vengeance?  (I want them to be unsure of who killed him and fair-minded enough to know that they can't just punish random people without proof.) 

I'll take him to the dumpster tomorrow on the way to work when I'm a bit less hysterical.

The end.  I really, really, really pray that's the end.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

on being a scary book lady

"It's like you're a scary cat lady . . . only with books." - a friend
There are a lot of reasons I hate moving, but one of the worst is book damage anxiety.  I pack them with love and care in precise and scientific ways to lower the chance of damage, but the fact is that after carrying 25 boxes up two flights of stairs, people helping me move cannot realistically be expected to treat my book boxes with the gentleness I would like.   I cannot blame them; they are saints to be helping in the first place.

It also rained during a part of the move, and by "rained," I mean "something sometimes akin to a monsoon."  Two boxes were casualties of this water; neither of them contained books.  Go ahead and breathe that sigh of relief with me. 

One bookcase did die, but it has been propped up sufficiently to be able to shuffle along as a zombie until the next move when it will surely perish.  May it rest in peace for the years that elapse before that next move . . .

I unpack the book boxes first because they take up the most space but also because I don't want them to be crammed and cramped for any longer than they have to be.  I unpack with fear and trembling, mourning each bent corner and new scrape, the same sorts of injuries I myself end up getting in the course of a move.  At least books don't bleed as much as I do.

I love touching all my books again.  I'm the kind of person who loves shelving and alphabetizing books, getting (re)acquainted, especially this time since I was separated from 75% of them for almost a year due to allergies. 

It's not like I never visited them; the visits were just hurried and infrequent because my mom didn't think I should be at my offsite library storage site alone since I live in the Big City.  The separation anxiety wasn't terrible all the time, but sometimes, I would really wish I could run my fingers over the spines and curl up with a certain something that was temporarily out of my grasp.  On occasion, it was maddening. 

Now we are all together again.  Or we will be when those extra shelves and pegs arrive, and I can unpack the last of the caged nonfiction and poetry . . .

Looking forward to that glorious day,

Monday, August 1, 2011

in case you were wondering

I fell off the face of the earth due to packing for a move, moving, and unpacking.  I'm still unpacking, but there may be a return to our regular posting schedule soon . . .

Monday, July 11, 2011

On the power of fiction and faith

"In the end, neither proselytizing nor polemics will allow us to find common ground. . .  Beauty and the imagination provide a space where we can find ourselves entering that common ground almost unawares." - Gregory Wolfe
Thoughts?  Examples?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Traveling to the Twelve Kingdoms

I am in awe of the world building in The Twelve Kingdoms series. Not only does it have ridiculously off the wall ideas, but it pursues them to logical extremes and often leaves me wondering, "Would that actually work in the real world?"

In this world, babies grow on trees. Yeah, you read that right. Sounds silly and whimsical, right? Well, it's actually pretty intriguing. A married couple goes to pray on a specific day and wraps their prayer on a branch of the tree. If the heavens deem them capable of being good parents, a child grows for a year on that branch, and then, when it's ripe, they whack it with a rock to crack the eggfruit shell, and the baby is born. Because it's so hard to get a child, children are quite highly valued.

Think of the sociological implications! Women don't spend months increasingly incapacitated; they don't breastfeed. Either parent can serve as primary caretaker, but mostly the responsibility is shared. Both parents can work on the farm or serve in the government. Wild, right?

And then there's the way that the society is set up. Until age 20, children are taken care of and taught how to take care of themselves. At age 20, they receive a standard land grant in the town where they're registered. They can sell it and take the money to open up a shop in a town. They can trade it if they marry someone from another place. The plots of land are laid out in a standard way so that there are 8 plots and 1 communal plot in each grouping. Unless the kingdom is in turmoil, no one who works has to risk starvation. And if you can't work or are under 20 or over 60, you live in the communal house and are taken care of. In a small country with mainly agricultural land going for it, this could really work! Just like every other system, it works better in theory-world where no actual humans are involved, but still.

Anyway, I wrote a bit elsewhere about it, and I do highly recommend picking up the series not if you're interested because the publisher just went under, so the books are now technically out of print.  Good luck finding the first one for anything approaching a reasonable price.  The fourth one ends in a good place. When I finished it, I got a bit teary-eyed because I might never read a new volume again, but I'm really grateful for the four we did get.  I hope someone rescues this license and reissues the books (and maybe does a better job marketing them to the wider audience they richly deserve).

Have you read this series? Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In defense of a sub-genre lots of people hate

So I was reading this article in defense of Christian romance novels today, and it got me thinking about the usual fiction and faith-related topics.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Below are some highlights to entice you to read the whole thing (and at least skim the comments). 
  1. '"It’s nice to enter a world where broken people get their pieces put back together."'
  2. '"I think she’s dead-on. Any of us who enjoy reading fiction — of any stripe — do so in part for the entertaining escape. Whether it's romance or mystery, literary novels or action-packed adventures, we love reading because we love getting lost into other people’s lives, worlds, interests, and desires. We can enjoy all the good of their world or cringe at the hardship, all the while understanding that it is made up."'
  3. "Christian romance novels may indeed hold some danger for some. If your relationships suffer because of them, of course don’t read them. And if — as is often the case with those who view porn — you read romance novels to fulfill your own unmet longings and needs, be warned: you won’t.
  4. 'But unlike porn, which offers empty depravity, Christian romance stories offer something beautiful and hopeful and God-honoring: stories of people overcoming hurts and heartache and finding love.'
  5. 'In fact, this is why Pleiter says she writes Christian romance. “I welcome the chance,” she says, “to pull readers out of their daily lives for a few hours and show them a lovely world where people forgive one another and where love conquers all.”'
  6. 'Pushing back on Moore’s comment, Pleiter says this isn’t about creating an illusion but holding up an ideal.'
  7. 'While we may not agree on all the “ideals” romance novels convey, Pleiter raises a good point. It is the ideal of being forgiven and love conquering all that appealed to me. And while my brain knows this isn’t always true, my heart wishes it were. The good news is that my soul knows it will. Not in a book. Not in this life. But one day.'
  8. 'So, far from wrecking marriages, the occasional Christian romance should strengthen our hope."'
  9. '"My point? All fictional genres are based on unreality and unreal presentations of the world, whether it be romance, military suspense, mystery, or science fiction. There is always a danger of being sucked into unreality and making unreasonable expections of life, whether that be in terms of a spouse, a job, or any other life experience. I fully understand that certain situations may be a danger to the reader/viewer. I myself have certain reading/viewing standards. To ban an entire genre, though, and one which a number of godly women use as a means of coping with the demands of a life devoted to God, church, and family, seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No doubt there are people who have been harmed by fiction. To claim it is all bad, though, requires more than sweeping generalization and anecdote. For the Christian, I'd say there needs to be Scriptural evidence and consistency, for the verse "Guard your heart" is a phrase that can refer to a number of idols we put up in our hearts, including "godly" activities like serving the Church or even reading the Bible (as I recall, there are a number of hunks and scandals in there, too)."'
  10. '"I can see many who have a problem with these are many who have a problem with fiction in general. We lack metaphorical intelligence for poetic truth."'
Feel free to comment on one or all (they're numbered for your convenience).  What is your experience with these books?  If you have none, why not?  I'd really like to hear people's thoughts about this controversial subgenre. 

Also, I think the article's author earns class points for not using the term "Bonnet Ripper," but I'm not sure if those points are positive or negative.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Daddy-Long-Legs I don't want to squash

I read Daddy-Long-Legs today, a light and cheerful little book published in 1912 about an orphan who's given the chance to go to college if she'll just write letters to her anonymous benefactor once a month.  Don't be put off by the potential creepiness of the title; she caught a glimpse of him during the opening chapter during a flash of lightning that made his shadow look like the long-legged spider.  It was pleasant and sassy and such a delightful ride that I don't really care that it ended predictably (and that I suspected where it was going to end from pretty much the third chapter).  Some books are like that. 

It actually reminded me a bit of the feeling I got while reading the Betsy-Tacy series.  Time long past that is "simpler" and slightly unfamiliar and thus interesting from a historical standpoint but full of many familiar feelings and types of experiences.  There's the same leisurely pacing some of the earlier Betsy-Tacy books had, too.

Also, though it could have had elements of creepiness once I figured out what was going on, it widely avoided any Tale of Genji shenanigans.

I'm also a sucker for a well-done story in letters.  Letters are such interesting things, really, and I'm sad we don't really do them anymore.  There was a factor of time delay and removal from actual interaction that allowed letter writers to be more honest if they wanted to be but also more artificial and deceptive if they so chose.  Any form where it's easier both to lie and to tell the truth has such possibilities, don't you think?  And there's just more room for emotion when handwriting (not typing) is involved.

In this book, there was the added frustration of the letter writer sending her letters off into a void where she didn't get answers.  For all she knew, here benefactor didn't even read her letters.  Maybe she was writing them for no one, and sometimes, this provoked reactions in her that she later regretted but couldn't immediately fix.  There's something about writing to someone you don't really know that is kind of freeing. 

There's a similar feeling to some kinds of blogging.  You don't really know if anyone's reading it, but sometimes, the pleasure in writing is all you really want.  When you get a response, it's a bonus, but the effort and practice in writing is valuable in and of itself.

Now I'll have to track down the sequel, enticingly entitled Dear Enemy.  I wonder if the same friend who leant me this book has that one, as well.  She just handed it to me one day saying she thought I'd appreciate it despite the traditional ending.  I was sort of flabbergasted because in the month before she gave it to me, I had run across references to it in three or four different and unexpected places (it seems this work is still quite popular in Japan, for instance).

Have you read this work or encountered it anywhere?  What are your thoughts on it? 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Will beauty save the world?

From an advertisement for the book:
"Beauty Will Save the WorldImage editor Gregory Wolfe has said more than once that public intellectuals are a dying breed: writers who proceed on the assumption that regular people read novels old and new, go to museums and art exhibitions, and may even dip into theology and aesthetics. The public intellectual writes as if these interests are not the exclusive territory of academics and specialized reviewers, but are the marks of a well-rounded, curious human being, be she project manager, chemistry teacher, cop, or stay-at-home mom. A dying breed, perhaps, but not quite extinct. In Wolfe and a few others like him, the species lives on. His new book’s title, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, taken from an enigmatic journal entry of Dostoyevsky, summarizes Wolfe’s own way of thinking: beauty is no frill, but a foundation of a full human life. A cheerful, erudite generalist, Wolfe has the rare gift of tackling weighty and complex ideas in engaging, readable prose. What gives particular warmth to this collection is that he is also occasionally personal. The book would never be mistaken for a memoir, but the outline of Wolfe’s own story is there. Its arc is the discovery that the arts have value to a culture, and to individuals, that goes beyond uplift, diversion, and entertainment, and in fact can shape how we think and live more deeply than abstraction and ideology. We participate in a discovery that is also Wolfe’s own, as he grows from an avidly political youth to a sadder, wiser, more catholic reader of poetry and novels, viewer of art and film, and listener of music, who still cares just as passionately about the state of human societies, though now from a different angle. The book’s earlier sections describe the role of art in the contemporary age—a fractured, shifting time, to be sure, but no more so than any other, Wolfe argues—and make the case for beauty as a vital underpinning to the life of the soul and a humanizing, vivifying, mellowing, and enriching force. Throughout, Wolfe is generous with examples. His special joy is in holding up particular gems for our appreciation, including the work of artists and writers both canonical and lesser-known. Later chapters give consideration to novelists dear to his heart (Endo, Berry, Waugh, Woiwode), visual artists (Folsom, McCleary, Fujimura), and the conservative mentors who shaped him as a young man. Wolfe’s engagement with culture is broad and welcoming. Novels, poems, painting, philosophy, aesthetics: the feast is open to everyone. With stunning cover art by painter Laura Lasworth."

Sounds interesting to me.  What about you?

Censorship and other uncontroversial topics

I stumbled across this a while ago, and I thought I'd share in case you find it valuable.  Please check out the initial post (salty language warning), the situation it surrounds, and the comments (including this one).  I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you are raising children or have raised them or were one yourself.  :)

"When it comes to 'controversial' subjects in relation to teens, I truly believe censorship is not just harmful to students, it's downright selfish. Why is it selfish? Because it's more for the sake of the adults than for the sake of the children. Censorship allows parents to feel good about their kids not being exposed to controversial subject matter. Censorship allows the school to feel safe from having to be associated with controversial subject matter. Censorship doesn't keep the children safe from the subject matter, especially not subject matter relating to them and their peers. So what if they don't see it in a film or on a stage? They see it in their homes, in their hallways, in the news, in their friends.. . . Parents and teachers talk and talk about all these "dark, untasteful" subjects till the students' ears fall off, but the moment kids want to talk back, want to answer, ask questions, a lot of adults become afraid.

"Maybe they're scared that they won't have an answer to what the youth will ask them, maybe they're afraid of what they'll discuss among themselves. This is normal, and this is ok. What isn't ok is to pass on your fears to youth without also passing down the knowledge that comes with it. What isn't fair is to ask youth to keep their eyes closed to the reality of their world simply because you'd rather not face it yourself.

"I can imagine its scary to see children that you were taught to protect starting to try to figure out their own way of dealing with things, but that's what they need, that's growing up.. . ."

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Life Is Not a Musical

I saw Billy Elliot the Musical the other day, and all the trees look like dancers.  I love that about ballet.

I loved the movie Billy Elliot.  I wanted to see the musical version of it the last time I was in England, but I was roped to a high maintenance, mentally unstable, young roommate for the duration of our tour there, so I had to see what she wanted, which was not Billy Elliot.  I wish I weren't so nice.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it came to my area.  But then I faced a dilemma, which is the fact that I loathe musicals.

I wasn't always like this.  I actually acted in a lot of musicals up through high school.  I still regularly have lyrics and music I sang nearly 20 years ago get stuck in my head.  So why can I hardly stand to watch musicals?  I guess it's because they make things feel so trivial.  On a positive note, musicals are about words and movement, and there were moments with a lot of angry words and violence and dancing in the movie.

Billy Elliot was so dark and nuanced and political that I was pretty sure turning it into a musical would destroy it because of the nature of the genre-beast.  Musicals like to take the most powerful/poignant/emotional moments and dwell on them.  To death.  In a movie like Billy Elliot, the strength lay in the lack of over-dramatizing, in the careful restraint from any descent into sentimentality, in those quick moments of awesome beauty in an otherwise, cold, angry, brutal, awkward, real, grounded and gritty world.  Another strength was the reserve and inarticulateness of the characters.  These are not things that scream "great musical" to me.

It's a good thing there was some outstanding acting going on.  Stealing the show was a grandmother who I don't think was actually even in the original.  She was amazing.  The woman who becomes Billy's teacher was pretty great, too.  The music was very good, and some of the dancing was well done.  The fusion of a lot of different styles really worked in the numbers that weren't too exaggerated in typical musical style.  Billy's actor that day was pretty good, too.  His dancing-acting was incredible; his acting-acting was not quite as good, but he was trying to speak in an unfamiliar accent in a language that was not his first, so, you know, I'm going to cut him some slack.  That's a tough role to play for anyone, and he mostly pulled it off, even the copious swear words.  (Yeah, it wouldn't be what it was if they didn't leave those in there. :)

I enjoyed it, and I cried at the end because it turned out to be the last performance, and that always choked me up in my theater days. 

Have you seen any good musicals or plays lately?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rebel Jesus

I've been reading the gospels lately, and, you know what?  They tell a good story about a really compelling man (who was also God). 

Every time I read them, I am always shocked by how unsanitized He is in these books.  He is not a pious, clean, respectable man.  He is controversial; He does not pull punches.  He argues, He is sly and clever, He deliberately speaks in parables so people won't understand, He feeds the hungry, He is unpredictable, He seeks solitude and encourages His followers to do the same, He heals the sick even on the Sabbath.  He has no patience with those who aren't really seeking.  He is not nice.  He's loving and kind but not nice. 

I love Him with all my heart because He is so real. 

Blue Like Jazz movie trailer

I like Donald Miller's work.  I like Steve Taylor's work.  I have to tell you I'm actually kind of looking forward to the movie adaptation of the essay collection Blue Like Jazz because not only is it written by Miller, but the movie is also directed by Steve Taylor.  I hope it's good.

Anyway, this must all be kind of surreal for Donald Miller.  I mean, some guys approached him about making a movie based on his nonfiction book, and he ended up writing a book as a result of his odd experiences watching these professional movie guys try to shape his life story into something that made film story sense even if it wasn't literally true.  That movie ended up not happening due to lack of funds.  Then fans of the book basically funded this extremely low-budget movie version.

If it shows up in a theater near near me, I'll see it and let you know what I think.  I'd appreciate if you'd do the same.  :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Starting Children of God, plenty of tissues on hand

It was not nearly sunny enough for me to start reading Children of God, but I did it anyway.  I am exercising strict self-control and rationing my reading of it partly because I'm still getting over a cold and can't afford to get too congested from all the crying I am doing/will do but mostly because I don't want it to be over.  At the same time, it's painful to drag out all this suffering.  Once again, with feeling, I'm glad I'm not God.

The perils of lending

I suppose when I lend books to people with tiny toddlers, I should not be too surprised when they come back with new illustrations . . .

City of Fallen Angels: descending into darkness

Simon, I still love you, even if you had moments of intense dumb this time around.  I can't tell you how glad I am that you and Clary are still best friends after what happened between you.  It makes me sad and a little jealous.  Clary, I was kind of ready to write you off as annoying, but I appreciate that you're willing to take responsibility in a non-destructive way, unlike Jace.  Jace, well, I'm glad you're not dead.  Mostly.  But you're getting reeeeeealllllllly tiresome.  If you keep this up, I may start seriously rooting for your death.

I stalled out near the end of this volume because it seemed to be going somewhere stupid, but after a week to de-angst, I was able to finish it, and it didn't end as badly as it might have.  However, Clary, I hope next time you know just to leave.  The moral of the story is, of course, that you should never leave the tortured male lead alone with the not-quite-entirely dead body of his nemesis.  I thought we already knew that?

I'm actually kind of digging the parallel stories here.  The present day is the Mortal Instruments series, but there are increasing numbers of cross-over characters with the newer series (Infernal Devices) that takes place in the past.  It's building some great tension and curiosity about what happened in the past and how it's connected to the present.  If only they weren't so young and dumb and prone to little mistakes like putting the whole world at risk because of hormones, I mean, true love.  Ah, well, it's YA.  :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This witch is still magical (and so is Terry Pratchett)

How is it that when I finish a Terry Pratchett book, I am always wiser and gentler than when I started?  And how is this true when the books are also hilarious, clever, and comical as all get out?  I don't know how Pratchett keeps it up, but I love it.

I find myself feeling a bittersweet sadness with every Pratchett book I read now that I've learned he has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  Will this be the last book?  When will the cracks start to show?  Will he be able to write all the stories he has in his head before his head becomes a strange place for him?

It must be ten times worse for him.  I wonder if he feels pressured to make each book end well just in case it is the last.  He's always made the Discworld books mostly self-contained.  I've always liked that about him.  No cliffhangers here. 

However, this most recent Tiffany Aching novel feels like a last one since so many of the growing up type issues have been resolved.  (And there are tons of cameos!)  I'm sure Pratchett could revisit and make something else brilliant, but I wonder if he just wants to stop while he's at the top of his game? 

Have you read this one?  What do you think?  Is he done with this corner of Discworld?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Poetry + teenage boy + baseball = great

Books in verse by a male teenage narrator that are fun, funny, and sometimes touching: that's what Ron Koertge's Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs bring to the reading table.  Novels in verse are starting to gain momentum in the YA market, and I find them fascinating.  They're a different kind of poetry collection, one driven by narrative in a different way.  Koertge's books seem particularly valuable because, not only are they entertaining, they can actually be educational.

For the poetry fan, they introduce the place of formal poetry in a poet's life.  They're mostly in blank verse, but there's a lot of conscious experimentation on the narrator's part and a realization of the challenge and value of formal poetry to present day writers.

For the non-fan who thinks poetry is irrelevant and has nothing to say that's as good/deep as prose, there's a lot of thoughtful, realistic work being done here.  How poetry can help us shape and process things is an important theme and one that rings true to my own experience as it's presented here.

I just wish this stuff had been around when I was a teen.  Maybe I wouldn't have avoided modern poetry for the better part of a decade if I'd seen how relevant, useful, and beautiful it could be.  Thank you, Mr. Koertge, for two most excellent books!  I'm looking forward to re-reading them the next time I need some inspiration.

The Quotable Rothfuss

Hey, fans, if you've read NotW or WMF, drop on by the blog o' Rothfuss and read everyone's favorite quotes and post some of your own. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

House hunting for sign seekers

Humans like stories.  We like to make stories up.  We like to give things meanings.  We like signs and searching for signs.  When signs seem obvious, they confirm for us that we're going in the right direction.  When we're desperate, any sign will do, even if we have to get creative with our meaning-making and interpretation.

When I was looking at houses, after seeing two abysmal ones, I finally saw one that was really promising. As we left that house and passed by a heavily wooded area, I saw a fox.  It was HUGE.  Many medium sized dogs would have run in fear.  It felt thrillingly like A Sign, especially when I consider how long its been since my last animal encounter, especially near my residence.

The next house we saw had a number and a letter, and the letter was the same as the first letter in my name.  That, too, felt like a sign.  The house was just in hideous shape on the inside.  Huge but a total mess and in need of thousands of dollars of work.  Perfect for a fixer-up family but impossible for me, no matter how much I liked the space and the layout.  I decided the address was Not A Sign. 

My life, my story, my choice, right?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Read it for the vampire hummingbirds

When I started reading this fourth book in a series, I had only the vaguest memories of what happened in the previous books.  The author earned bonus points by making that not matter at all.  (Excellent summary work, author!)  At the end, the author lost all those points by ending on a cliffhanger.  (You're better than that, author!)  Cliffhangers should never be allowed unless the next book is coming out in less than a month.

I rather adore Karigan because she's so practical.  Pragmatic, realistic characters get on my nerves less when they encounter relationship drama, even if they do make stupid (but reliably consistent with their character) choices.  Sigh. 

And then there was that bit with her father, which was kind of painful.  One of Karigan's faults is one that I share: we build up unrealistic pictures of people we care for and then get smashed when we're wrong.  It's really no fun when we are forced to confront the fact that our parents have pasts and still make choices that disappoint us.  It's not (entirely) their faults that we look at them unrealistically.  The intense disappointment we feel when we come to see that they are fallible humans is because we were wrong, and we realize that being an adult will never make our problems go away, and we can never trust our parents in quite the same worshipful way again now that we know them better.  Growing up sometimes sucks.

In conclusion: I still like this series, but the author will have to do something big to appease me after that cliffhanger.  (Good thing the plot threads are going in such enticing directions . . .)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

When the storyline diverges

Did you ever read Dune by Frank Herbert?  It's kind of a sci-fi classic, but I never finished it.  I got stuck in the part where the main character started to see all these diverging futures, and it made him a little insane.  I can kind of understand that because I'm dealing with no more than three, and it's wearing me out.

In one most likely future, I stay here with my current job but purchase a decent condo or townhome to move into when my lease expires this summer.  (Other variations involve extending my lease 3-6 months and going after the perfect short sale home and possibly getting a roommate or subletting from someone else/moving in as someone else's roommate while looking for that short sale home, thus necessitating two moves in the space of a year, which is . . . problematic.)

In the other future, I get a job elsewhere, and I have to purchase a condo or townhome in another state to move into this summer at the same time as I start the new job.  House hunting from afar is . . . difficult.

The timing is bad/good because I think I'll likely end up moving at the same time either way, so there will definitely be packing, and I can get a head start on that.  See?  I can be positive!

The closer I get to the divergence, the more I feel like I'm living two lives.  I have to put all my eggs in both baskets because there will be serious repercussions and difficulties if I neglect one or the other.  I thought I was having enough trouble trying to fully commit to one life.

Well, Paul (if that was your name) I think with your tons of future vision diverging paths, you were entitled to a little bit of insanity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I love fantasy, part x

For these three reasons this week

  • vampire hummingbirds
  • zombie dinosaurs
  • debunked, drug-addicted dragons

What else really needs to be said?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

House hunting for the melodramatic buyer

House hunting is kind of hard right now.  It's a buyer's market, and that's good for me as a potential buyer.  It means there're some nice houses out there for low prices.  Unfortunately, the reason for this buyer's market is foreclosures and near-foreclosures, which means that these great deals are places people used to call home until they got kicked out, often for financial reasons beyond their control.  It's chilling and sobering and makes me sad.  It's especially hard when I'm looking at pictures of a foreclosure or short sale home, and I see that one of the bedrooms obviously belonged to a child, and all that's left is whimsical wallpaper and memories.  If houses are haunted, I wonder if they can be haunted by regret.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

House hunting for the lost

I was house hunting, and I got lost in Centerville, which, true to its name, was in precisely the middle of nowhere.  Who thought it was a good idea to make all the streets start with E and only post the names if one comes in the back way?  And why did the realtor not think it worth telling me in her cryptic message that the house had already been sold, so I would be wasting 2 gallons of gas on the trip?  Gee, what fun this is. :)  I'm sure I'll get lots of stories out of it . . .

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What is a good review?

I read a lot of reviews preparing to teach a class about a particular book, and I enjoyed the experience of trying to reconcile all the reviews to that actual book.  They painted an odd picture, indeed.  I found myself thinking about reviews, in general, so I'm probably going to be posting bits for the next few posts.  :)

"My definition of a “good review”, along those lines, would be one where I can tell whether or not I’ll like the book, regardless of what the reviewer thought." - from comment 16

What do you think about that idea?  What's your definition of a good review (if you read them at all)?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teaching The Sparrow

Well, that was fun. 

In case you wondered where I disappeared to for the last week, I was getting ready for tonight.  I just got back from guest teaching a class about The Sparrow.  Aside from the few people who never said anything (probably hated it), everyone seemed engaged with it on some level, though a few people didn't really get it.

"Such hubris!  Those Jesuits . . ."
"Um, I don't think we can just pin this on Jesuits."
"Oh, I know; it's all missionaries!"
"Um, no, I think it's all humans."

That was the most frustrating misunderstanding, and it came at the end in a flurry of discussion, so I couldn't redirect the reader's attention.  :(  This isn't (just) a book about Jesuits in space.  It's about people and how we, with the best of intentions, sometimes get really terrible results, even if/though God exists.  (The book allows for either.)  Yes, science fiction with subtext!  (And how.) 

This book had super-high reread value.  Nothing was wasted; everything had meaning (the theme was on every page in every conversation).  It was so painful . . .  I started crying around page 179.  I didn't even bother with tissues; I didn't want my nose to be peeling off when I tried to teach the class.

It's nice to talk about a great book with bright people.  There were so many things we didn't get to talk about.  I want to do it again.  :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

On the shelf in 2011

Blackveil by Kristen Britain.  I was so busy, I didn't even know this one was coming until I saw it on a shelf.  It hasn't been as long as usual between books, so that's a surprise, too.  Also, I can't really remember what happened.  I suppose I'll have to read them all again.  What a hardship . . . :)

Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce.  Ah, short stories.  It's always fun to find all the parallel characters from her other books, and she has made a splendid world.  I think I may have actually missed another short story collection called Melting Stones somewhere along the way, too.  There isn't much of a market for YA sf/f short stories, so it's nice when someone has enough clout to publish a collection.

Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3 by Tamora Pierce.  October, are you here yet?  This series is fun.  Even when it's covered in sewage.  Not many police procedurals get this dirty . . .

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.  Oh, July.  Wherefore art thou?  Not like I should complain since I thought it was coming out in October.  July is much more doable.  When last we left our hero, he was in a rather tough spot.  How will he recover?  I can't wait to find out.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare.  There's a fourth one?!  Hooray!  Good!  The third and theoretically last one sort of fumbled in its conclusory duties.  I hope this one has a lot of Simon because gosh darn it, poor Simon.  Also, I hope the next prequel comes out before I forget what was going on in that fabulous steampunk tragedy.

I'm currently two behind in Heather Brewer's Chronicles of Vladimir Tod.  The last two are on my library chair waiting for me.  I wasn't very happy with the choices Vlad made at the end of book three, so I hope he redeems himself here in the end.  However, he's entitled to make a few mistakes and be emo about it because, well, he has a rough life.  It's easy to second guess and view in hindsight, and who am I to cast stakes?

I'm also two behind on Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider novels.  These are excellent books to exercise while reading because the secret ingredient is adrenaline (not love, sorry).  In theory, this most recent one might be the last . . .  I can't tell if that's just marketing copy madness.  Then again, they did kill poor Alex off at the end of an earlier one and then make me wait two years to find out what really happened.  (I kind of wonder if that wasn't like Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes and then having to resurrect him because thousands of angry teenagers sent email and whined online.  :)

Lots of good reads out there waiting for me and calling my name.  Ah, I miss summer break, where I could kick back and read 100 books.  Pardon me while I wipe nostalgia-drool off the computer keyboard.

Read anything you liked lately?