Archive for February, 2013

Isn’t that always what racist people say? Doesn’t saying that make you an unaware racist? At least that’s the conventional wisdom. I don’t think of myself as racist; race is usually one of the last things I consider about a person–if I consider it at all. I tend to only consider race if it comes up as part of the conversation; I get that maybe I need to do more self-examination.

What did I do that is accused of racism? (First off, no one has accused ME directly of being racist; I’ve just seen others who share my position on this one matter as being called racist.)

During the Oscars someone in the employ of the satirical Internet Magazine The Onion posted an outrageously horrific comment that went beyond satire into the land of the truly cruel and hideously awful. They called the nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis a word that I won’t use even in example.*

The thing about Quvenzhane Wallis is that she’s a little girl who has been on the publicity and awards circuit for her movie (Beasts Of The Southern Wild) for a long time now–much of this last year. I’ve seen her a lot of places, and just like Abigail Breslin before her I watched her go from a sweet, charming kid to a publicity-savvy brat over the course of her prolonged exposure. In fact, I compared her to Abigail Breslin in a conversation with friends because the trajectory was exactly the same in my mind. Cute little girl stars in a small picture that garners a lot of attention, and then the cute little girl is everywhere being sassy and snotty. So when I said that “she is definitely not that thing the Onion said, but she is acting like a brat” I figured hey. That’s my opinion. Several other people say she’s adorable and has a great amount of self-confidence, but I think what other people interpret as self-confidence I interpret as bratty. This may be yet another in the long list of good reasons for me to not have a child.

So in googling her name along with the word “brat” I came across many people who share my opinion. Thrown into the mix with us are folks that respond with “you’re just saying that because she’s black.” They also (erroneously) point out that “no one ever says that about white kids” and follow that claim with a list of white child actors, some of whom I’ve actually heard of.

Do I think she’s a brat because she’s black and I’m less accepting of personal pride in black children? I don’t think so. I’ve seen a lot of black child actors, none of whom have struck me as bratty even though they have self-confidence (eg. Jaden Smith, Willow Smith, Keshia Knight-Pulliam). I’ve seen many white child actors who do strike me as having become bratty in the spotlight. Not only the aforementioned Abigail Breslin but also Lindsay Lohan who started to hit the skids about six months after Parent Trap came out. Yes, I do remember that far back.

I do think there is room for a good conversation, though, about what level of self-confidence in any child is perceived as “okay”, and whether that line shifts–even subtly–when the child is of a race different to one’s own. I also think there’s room for a conversation about the huge generation and culture gaps between a 42-year old Midwestern-bred woman and a 9-year-old Southern-bred child. Midwesterners tend to not push to be noticed, to try to go about our business with a minimum of fuss. Modern children everywhere are being bought and dressed in t-shirts that say “call my agent” and “talk to the hand.” Is one right and the other wrong? I don’t think we can say that, obviously. People are different. Cultures are different. I don’t approve of dressing little girls as “princesses” and slathering them in makeup, but they’re not my kids. And I know that some parents do so not as encouragement of post-feminist “waiting for a man to save me” thought, but as a way to let their daughters know that they are beautiful and special and unique. (Of course I think that such lessons can and should be accomplished without a focus on dress and makeup, but children are children and sometimes you meet them where they’re at and bring them into a new way gradually.)

All of that is my way of saying that to distill this conversation down to “she’s black. You’re white. Your opinion is an evil one” does everybody a disservice.

*If you want to know what the word is, just google the girl’s name. I’m sure it’ll pop right up.

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Well, I guess the Wachowskis must not do a whole lot of reading.

I remember when the weird trailer for their movie came out; instead of being about the movie it’s about the three of them–the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker–sitting there talking about how this is the BEST BOOK EVER and THERE’S NEVER EVER BEEN ANOTHER BOOK LIKE IT and so they had to turn it into this life-changing piece of art.

I guess they’ve never heard of these things called “short-story anthologies”, nor had they ever read Italo Calvino’s When On Winter’s Night A Traveler. Because I just finished reading Cloud Atlas and that’s what book it is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a very good book indeed. Is it the Best Book Ever? No. It is a mostly well-done collection of short stories grouped around a theme. The first short story is a mid-nineteenth century seafaring journal centering around slavery. The second is 1930s Europe. It goes on like that, with the characters in each story being reincarnations of the same person, making the same mistakes in a whole new era. Oh what fun! The gimmicky part, also found in the Calvino book, is that each short story leaves off abruptly (except for the central story set in a post-apocalyptic future.) You’re reading along and then BAM! the story just stops and now you have to care about a detective story set in the 1970s, or a blade-runner/THX-1138 rip-off set in the future. After the central story where we see that yes, indeed, the same people DO make the same mistakes, right up to the end of the world as we know it…and beyond, we get to finish the back half of all the short stories. It’s like going up a ladder and back down again.

That’s really a good way to structure the book for maximum impact of the huge reveals of things like what happens to each version of the person with the comet birthmark. It’s a really annoying way to structure the book for the reader, but I suppose it does make the point, starkly, that the ending of any story is wholly dependent upon where the teller stops telling it. What seem like happy endings after the first short story turn sad after the second, and vice versa.

It IS a very good book, but all due respect to the filmmakers it’s not the BEST BOOK EVER nor did it CHANGE MY LIFE to read it. At least now that I have read it I can see their movie. Time Magazine claimed the film was the worst of 2012. I can only assume that Time Magazine didn’t see a lot of movies in 2012.

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I haven’t been able to write much lately, as this blog entry will attest. I’m just sort of…empty…of the stuff that makes for good, solid writing. Yet I do want to talk about a few things and I do need something to do besides browsing the library. When the dogs go outside is a perfect time to dash something off. How convenient that this is Friday and I can do one of my “ooh, shiny!” things.

Today’s “ooh, shiny!” is about novels. Books are probably a trite subject for me to write about, but hey. It’s what I know. And one of the reasons I’m empty creatively is because I’ve been binge-reading. No, wait. “Binge” implies that I’m out of control or using the activity to escape something. Neither thing is true; I’m simply under heavy obligation to the Nashville Public Library. I’m in one of those “feast” times where pretty much everything I reserved has come available at once, and they’re all expiring after fourteen days, so I’m obligated to plow through them. Of course this begs the question: since they’re ebooks, isn’t all this waitlisting and lending-period stuff just a charade to prop up the conventions we’ve become used to? I guess it’s also a good way to track the licenses on books, but I think there just ought to be a better way. My problem with reserving books from the library has always been that what I’m in the mood to read on the day I reserve a title is not necessarily what I’m in the mood to read when the title comes available. I reserved Cloud Atlas six weeks ago. Now I don’t particularly feel like that kind of book, but here it is and I’ve got two weeks from 3:24am to gin up a good spec-fic New Weird mood. It probably goes without saying that I don’t reserve a lot of China Mieville anymore.

One of my better finds since the first of the year has been Jennifer Donnelly. She writes well, and as I’ve waded through 45 books in five weeks I’ve come to realise that many authors write adequately, some write decently. Very few write well, and Donnelly is one of those. I inhaled the first two books in her historical fiction trilogy–The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose because they had pretty much everything I love in the old style saga format. Women who practice medicine, women who are deeply loved yet not defined solely by their lovers, all told in a vibrant setting and with unputdownable thrills. I’m holding off on the third book because I’m given to understand it centers around an extramarital affair, drug addiction and mountaineering. Odd how after two perfect books she managed to stick three of the story tropes I enjoy the least in one book. If she’d really wanted to bring it home to hell she could have added clowns.

Donnelly has also written a YA title, and that was due back to the Library next Monday so I finished it yesterday. Revolution was one of those books I feel like begging people to read just so they know what “good writing” looks like. Oh, and also because I think they’d enjoy the story. But I know not everyone is as gung-ho on The French Revolution as I am. It’s funny because the book is one of those in that “book within a book” genre that seems to be big lately, and that I don’t really normally enjoy. You know what I mean. Those stories where the protagonist is foundering, finds a diary or a stash of love letters from An Intriguing Yet Familiar Person In The Past and then gradually comes to identify with said Past Person while reading (and making us read along with) the discovered material. I tend to avoid those because the ones I have read (eg. The Weight Of Water; Posession) are ponderous and kind of pretentious. I think maybe since she set it in a YA world with a very cynical and wounded modern-day protagonist, Donnelly was able to avoid that trap. Because I can honestly say that I enjoyed the heck out Revolution and I plead with anyone who loves music, History, good writing and young adult fiction to check it out. Not necessarily out of the library; I think this may be one I end up buying to reread.

I’m already running long here so I won’t bore you with tales of the other 42 books I’ve plowed through thus far, but I will say just one thing: I think the entire Memoir genre needs an overhaul. I’m heartily sick of books about people who can’t stop having sex with every person they meet and then thinking that makes for a good story. (I’m looking at you, Chelsea Handler and Russell Brand.)

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[originally posted to GoodReads]

I tend to steer clear of Jane Eyre retellings, because I know the original book so well that the retellings seem to leave me both disappointed and craving the passions of Bronte’s world. This is the first time I’ve come across a straight retelling that actually does move the Jane Eyre tale lock, stock and barrel into the current era. She hews so closely to the original it almost feels as if she had a spreadsheet set up to make sure that each part of her story fell into the same blocks. For a die-hard fan of Jane Eyre, one who at one time had the book memorised, it’s a great deal of fun. Since I knew what was coming I derived no small amount of pleasure trying to figure out how she’d move this or that part of the tale into the 21st century. (“How will she handle the gypsy woman at the party?”)

The book loses that half a star for the handling of one element–St. John Rivers. I maintain that the way a modern author handles the Rivers Interlude is the make-or-break of any Eyre pastiche. He is such a difficult character in the original; without his sisters to soften him he’s even worse. Chrissy Breen Keffer did a marvelous job of making him both sympathetic and insufferable, the way St. John Rivers (herein called Jonathan Stone) should be. But my problem came at the very end of the Rivers Interlude. After building a very plausible and conflict-filled scenario that moved pompous, pious Rivers into the modern era, Breen Keefer concluded the whole thing in a rush that felt both forced and unrealistic. That didn’t matter too much, though, because by that point you know what’s coming and you just want her to say her goodbyes to the fellow and get back to Rochester.

If you’re at all a fan of Bronte’s timeless classic, I suggest you invest the dollar to give this book a bit of your attention. You’ll indeed find out just exactly how timeless Bronte’s plot and characters truly are.

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I’m putting a spoiler warning here. I should not have to, because the show was done airing in the UK on Christmas 2012. It’s done airing here as of Sunday night. But I know there are people like my sister who have saved the show on DVR to watch later. So I’m putting in an annoying paragraph for those who are watching at their leisure. I really hate Time Shifting. No…I love Time Shifted Viewing for the most part, but we really need a new spoiler etiquette. Because I’ve been yelled at for spoiling Eureka to a person who had just started watching the show at season 1 on Netflix during the final season….5 years later. I’m sorry, jackass, but if you’re five years behind you can just suck it up and realise that the price you pay is that you may find out something you didn’t want to know. Jeez. I’ve also got a friend who’s after me to not spoil Season 2 of Homeland until they watch it on the next Free Showtime Weekend. You know what…if you’re going to not pay to watch the show like I did and wait a year to see it for free…just forget it. You deserve what you get.

Now….on to Downton Abbey. (more…)

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So, Katherine Coble. Tell us…what is the most entertaining, thrilling and captivating book you’ve read in the last six months? Really? And you say it’s educational, too? An unputdownable book to inhale, ponder, discuss? Whoa.

What is this amazing read?

You’ll tell us over at Book In The Bag? Awesome! bookworm

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Surprised By Guy

Today’s entry is a long one. It’s the story of how I ended up here on Valentine’s Day in a basement in Hermitage, TN. Click on the “more” tag. Not only is there an honest-to-God tale, but there are also pictures.

C.S. Lewis really had it easy in that he fell in love with a woman named Joy, so when he wrote about the whole thing he had a ready-made title. There really aren’t any emotions with my husband’s name in them that aren’t also kind of lame, so I have to just go with something else. (more…)

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