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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I’ve admired Dr.Ben Carson ever since I saw the TV movie about his life. He’s a gifted physician and also seems to be a man with a true heart for people. However, if the TV movie I saw was correct, he also has a giant temper that he sometimes has difficulty controlling. Being similarly wired myself, I can completely understand that.

I can also completely understand how he, a medical person with a front-row seat to the flaws in the new Health Care plan, would have that infamous temper triggered by some of the changes on the horizon.

That doesn’t make his behaviour at the National Prayer Breakfast okay. I’m dismayed to be concern-trolling my side yet again, but honestly. When the people with whom I ostensibly agree keep acting like spoiled children throwing tantrums (“Let’s Secede!”; “Let’s Fly The Flag Upside Down!”; “Let’s Dishonor The President with name-calling!”) I don’t know what else to do. It’s not right or Godly to slap the ever-loving crap out of folks, after all.

The National Prayer Breakfast is a bi-partisan non-political event. It’s a chance for the people who are in politics to set aside the wrangling for a few hours and sup together while contemplating God. Attendance is not required. But it is emphatically about setting politics aside and focusing on that which transcends human politics.

When Dr. Carson took the opportunity last Thursday to use his speech to speak truth to power, he may indeed have said many right things.* Right things, however, can be said at the wrong time. Any person with a history of ill temper knows how one can be completely right yet also completely nonpersuasive because of the disrespect they show their listeners when they say those right things at the wrong time or in the wrong way. It’s clear from multiple accounts of the event that Dr. Carson offended President Obama and much of the audience.

That doesn’t matter that much to me. President Obama is a grown man; he can presumably handle being offended. Indeed, if he can’t he’s in the wrong line of work. What does matter to me is that this event is one of the rare things in the District set aside to honour God in a public fashion. By pulling the focus away from God, Dr. Carson created a bigger gaffe. He brought a pig into the temple, as it were.

That’s the kind of thing that I think is regrettable. I know that Cal Thomas wants Dr. Carson to apologise to the President. I think perhaps Dr. Carson ought to apologise to God.

* (I have not yet heard or read the entire speech. I’ve only seen it referenced.)

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Last night I got involved in a brief discussion. Let me say now that if I hadn’t backed away in frustration the discussion’s brevity would have been endangered.

This man who writes books and seems like a very nice man indeed made the claim that

Movies have developed the art of storytelling down to a science. That is to say that people have certain subconscious expectations regarding when the story elements should occur, and screenwriters know this and take advantage of it. It has more to do with pacing than strict adherence to a prescribed pattern.

In short, if you want to write a book, follow the movies! Goodness knows that those storytellers who have made literally thousands of movies have it all over those writers who’ve filled billions of books. I know when I want to become immersed in a story the absolute first place I turn is to 200 Cigarettes or The House Bunny.

Here’s the thing. I know that there are great stories in movies. I’m a big fan of movies. But a movie is not a book and a book is not a movie. In a movie they have different tools at their exposure–sound and image–and have ways to keep your interest and pique your emotions that go beyond what an author has with a book. A novelist has one tool: words. That’s it.

The problem is that those words may not have as broad a surface coverage as the bag of tricks a filmmaker utilizes, but they can go much deeper. It’s a strange alchemy between word and brain that allows a reader to enter worlds that are impossible to create in any other way. In order to have even a distant approximation film must mount astronomical budgets and the efforts of hundreds of personnel. A book takes an author, a mechanism for recording and transmitting the story (something that’s getting progressively more available), and a reader. All that combines into the art that has persisted for millenia.

So should we be looking to film for “the way to write a book”? Do all books have to start reading like episodes of a television show?


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When I was 15 my mom drove me to a job interview on Goshen Rd. I’d found the company’s ad in the classifieds; they were looking for people with good telephone presence, and at 15 that was pretty much my main skill. A lot of other events have faded in Mom’s memory but she still recalls (mostly) that one, when she heard my strange galumphing walk and looked in her review mirror to see me rounding the car for the passenger seat.

“They wanted to send blind kids to the movies!” I said as I slammed the door.

Her recollection is wrong on one count. What they ostensibly wanted to do was send “sight-impaired disadvantaged youth” to the circus. The job interview itself consisted of the applicant being handed a photocopy of a page of the local phone book and a script from which you could not deviate AT ALL. If you made one “sale” in 15 minutes you got to stay for another 15 and so on, until they got at least an hour’s free work out of you. As someone well-acquainted with my own hourly value thanks to babysitting pretty much every Saturday night I saw through that tactic, but still gamely went along with the first 15 minutes. I think I thought that I’d be so wonderful they’d hire me without the subsequent trial periods. I was 15. I went through the mealy-mouthed script but on the third read-through I realised what we were asking for money for, and how ridiculous it really was. What joy is there at a circus if you can’t see it? A lot of loud confusing noises, the urine-gamey funk of animals confined to quarters, let out only to prance in geegaws that looked foolish enough on the people. A circus without sight is stink and cacophony. With sight it is stink, cacophony and clowns. But really there wouldn’t be blind children going to any circus because once all the donations got apportioned out to the various people behind the scenes maybe one cent of every dollar went toward the circus fund. Those people could raise money forever and still not afflict one sightless kid with the horror of Barnum’s Folly.

I think of that scam often when people bring up charities. Livestrong is another example of yet another charity that has gone the way of the blind circus kids. Maybe now that Lance has been debracleted they can actually give money to cancer research again.

I also think of the blind kid show scam when I read about strange causes. Just now I went to the Ben & Jerry’s website to nominate that my favourite flavour–Wavy Gravy–be recalled to life. Sadly, I did a little research and see that the flavour was recalled because it was “not cost-effective”. The hippie who lent his name to the concoction contracted to have all the profits donated to send homeless kids to camp. Which is just weird. Camp is not a life essential. Camp is an extra. If these kids don’t even have a home, why are we sending them to CAMP? Don’t they already camp all the time? “Hey! You know what you’d love?! A couple of nights in a tent in the woods!” They get to be homeless with s’mores.

I know I don’t like circuses and I don’t like camping so there’s that. But in both cases I think it’s all ridiculous, yet the older I get the more I realise that people will do any number of ridiculous things for any number of ridiculous reasons. Like writing a blog.

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