Book Thoughts

This page is full of random things that I have to say about books.

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December 2005 Vogue: Oz, Narnia and Geisha

This month's Vogue has a few interesting articles. There was a look at the upcoming movie "Memoirs of a Geisha", an article about Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch in the upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", and an photo shoot based on "The Wizard of Oz".

Michael, skip this paragraph. You are going to say I'm nit-picking, but I'm no more nit-picking than you do with any media portrayal of someone playing a video game. Two years ago Vogue did a fantastic photo shoot based on Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" with a model playing Alice dressed in a different designer's take on Alice in each photo. It was artistic and interesting and obviously really inspired by Alice and Carroll's work. A year ago, they did the same thing with "Beauty and the Beast", but this time with Drew Barrymore playing Beauty. It wasn't quite as inspired as the Alice shoot, but it was beautiful and really did seem rather inspired by the story. This year's offering in the same vein was a take on "The Wizard of Oz". Now, previously it has been pretty clear that the designers were giving their own view of the book characters and not basing their designs on any movie versions. This year, they explicitly based the shoot on the 1939 MGM movie "The Wizard of Oz". Now, I don't for a minute intend to dispute that the movie has made a huge impact on our culture, but I do take some issue with the almost dismissal given to the book in this article. The photo spread is prefaced with a very short, only mostly accurate and very slanted piece about the history of the story. It basically dismisses any achievement the story had before the movie (including saying that "The Wiz" was a more successful musical than the 1902 musical version of the story, which is totally untrue). It handwaves L. Frank Baum's importance with a mention of his post-Wizard tiff with W. W. Denslow (the original illustrator of the story) and says that the movie is a more important cultural achievement that "inhabits our dream life". Thus, the entire shoot is inspired by the movie. And lack of the original story is evident in nearly every picture. Every shoe (except that in the first black and white photo) is bright red, Dorothy is waking up from her "dream", it is Glinda who sends Dorothy off on her journey rather than the Witch of the North, and there isn't even a hint of blue in any of Dorothy's dresses. The outfits could be based on just about any girl in any classic children's book. They are white little-girl inspired confections floating above towering high shiny leather or velvet pumps. In fact, they somewhat struck me as something an anime character who is supposed to be about 10 but is, for no very clear reason, incredibly oversexualized. My other main gripe is that Keira Knightley is the actress portraying Dorothy. Now, I like Miss Knightley just fine. She is a good actress and has made some wonderful movies and seems like a pretty nice person in real life too, but she isn't Dorothy. First off, Dorothy is the quintissential American heroine from the quintissential American story. Miss Knightley is undeniably British in both appearance and character, not to mention voice. Of the millions of Americans to pick was not one really acceptable for this shoot? Secondly, Miss Knightley seems somewhat oblivious to what is happening to Dorothy in each picture. One of the best parts of the Alice and Beauty shoots were the actresses facial expressions - each seemed to really have thought about what the character was thinking. Alice looked curious and confused while Beauty looked a little sad, a little lonely and a little curious. Dorothy looks totally posed and scared. That isn't Dorothy. The Kansas farm girl's character is one of practicality and a very roll-with-the-punches demenor. Even Judy Garland (who played a pretty clueless Dorothy) got those two fundamental things. Miss Knightley (or more likely whoever was directing her) seems to have totally missed the point. So basically, I was pretty disappointed in this shoot. I was hoping for a strong Dorothy dressed in fabulous costumes of blue and white striding proudly down the Yellow Brick Road on her way home, and instead I got a british anime girl in limp white dresses creeping like a frightened puppy with no evident direction or goal. I was very disappointed.

A few days ago Viv had a post discussing her concerns about the portrayal of Asian women in the upcoming movie "Memoirs of a Geisha". I was also hoping that this movie would have more realistic portrayals of Asian women characters (more depth than just "delicate lotus blossom" and "dragon-lady"), but after reading the Vogue article, I have more doubts than before. The article discusses the two main characters and the actresses who play them. It sounds very much like Zang is playing the typical delicate flower character while Gong plays the older dragon-lady character, with Yeoh as a motherly character thrown in for good measure. The director wanted to hearken back to old-fashioned "women's epics" (because obviously epic stories about women are totally different from epic stories about men). The costumes are beautiful, but this whole thing makes me nervious. I also found it odd that the director had serious problems because most of his actresses spoke Chinese (being Chinese women), while the actors spoke Japanese (being Japanese men) and multiple translators were always necessary. I would have cast Japanese women as Japanese characters, but I'm old-fashioned that way.

The most interesting article of the bunch was the short, and somewhat glossed-over article about Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch in the upcoming "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". It barely discussed the new movie, focusing more on Swinton's background, but what it did say was very interesting. It has been repeatedly pointed out by critics that the White Witch has always been portrayed in the past with midnight-dark flowing hair and this movie is showing her with peroxide-blonde, iceicled-stiff tresses. Swinton gives some very interesting reasons for that chioce that make a great deal of sense and show that she has not only read the book (brownie points for her), but also thought about it (extra sprinkles too). She states that she didn't see the book as so much of a religious parable, but rather with more of a political slant. The book was written by C. S. Lewis in the early 1950s and was set during the London Blitz of World War II. In that light, Swinton wanted the White Witch "to be an Aryan" because she thinks that "she's the ultimate white supremacist". Thus, the blond hair. That is a very different take on the book and the character than we usually hear, but it is definately one that makes sense. I am very interested to see the new movie, more than ever after reading this article, and hope that some of those ideas were used as inspiration for the portrayal of the story (I also hope they aren't explicit or even mentioned). I suppose we'll see when it comes out later this month!

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Comic Book Stores and Women

Ok, every month or two an article or other piece comes to my attention about why women don't buy/read comic books very often and almost never visit comic book stores. Usually these articles piss me off. The primary reason is usually the author and their attitude to the subject. Typically the writers of these articles (and there are several exceptions, just wait for it before you argue with me) fall into one of two categories. The first category is men who absolutely can't fathom why women wouldn't want to hang out in comic shops and read comics. The writers in this category that most annoy me tend to see women as a seperate species who are rather mysterious (cue spooky music) and need some kind of special stories/art/environment for a comic to be readable to them. They also often are the people who seem most clueless as to what to do if a woman *did* show up in a comic shop where they worked or shopped. The second category is made up of women who just don't get it. They are the type of women the first category thinks all women are. They are scared of comic book shops and "comic guys" and they tend to want stories that are basically "chick lit" or romances with pictures. These women might read "Strangers in Paradise", but give little else much of a chance. And they write wanting to know why the industry is so scary and why there aren't more books out there for them. Neither group is, in my opinion, the right group of people to be investigating the topic.

So, now that I have largely explained why these articles usually annoy me, I want to talk about the article I read today that I actually liked a lot. Comic Book Resources presented a feature this week called "Girl in the Clubhouse" that appeares to be intended as a regular feature (I will be interested to read future pieces). This first piece was written by Johanna Stokes, who is a comic book writer (primarily of a comic about zombies) and it is called How to Get Girls Into Your Comic Shops. She actually did some investigating before writing the piece. She obviously knows about comics, not only from a writer standpoint but also as a reader, and she obviously enjoys them. Those are important things. It's hard to judge the responses one gets to questions in this type of situation without knowing about the topic already. Anyway, she went into various comic shops and asked for advice on what she should read as a woman new to comics. She wanted not only female-friendly books, but also generally good newbie.

Obviously, there was a range in the responses she got. She gives two specific anecdotes about two different experiences, one wonderful and the other dreadful. They are very revealing. She also discusses some of the typical features of a comic book shop that scare newbies, especially women, and things that could be done to remedy the situation. Some of the things are obvious. Dark windows and lighting so low that it makes reading hard is not only scary but also frustrating. If you are trying to find your way through the huge amount of stuff in the comics world without much experience, you need to be able to get through the door and read the titles. She also points out that life-size statues of Spiderman are freaky and it's unnatural how many comic shops have them.

I think the biggest thing that came out of the article that made me happy with it was the clear statement that it isn't that they are women that is the hard part, it's that they are new customers and the comic book industry is one that is very very hard on new customers. I should be able to walk into a comic shop and say "what would you recommend?" and after some discussion of my preferences get some good suggestions. Hopefully some I've never heard of. That isn't something that only happens with women, it's something that happens with newbies. The other point that I liked (and don't see often enough) is that comic shops often feel like clubhouses with "No Girls Allowed" signs on the door. It's like, if you aren't male and over the age of 10 you aren't really supposed to be there. Well, why the hell not? I have money and interest, why shouldn't I be there? And why shouldn't I bring my child/niece/nephew/friend's kid/etc. with me? I should be able to say to a clerk "I need a good comic for a 7 year old, what would you suggest?" and get more than "Transformers" as a response. But all too often that isn't the case. Comics often feels like a boys only club when it really shouldn't. I know lots of women who read comics! I know more about the DC universe than most of the men I know! Why do I feel out of place in some comic shops? And why are the men who come into the bookstore where I work (not a great place to buy anything other than Spiderman and Batman, by the way) so reluctant to ask me about comics or listen to my advice when they do? I wouldn't answer the question if I didn't know what I was talking about, I would ask the computer or call someone else over.

Now, the local comic shop that I go to when I need to visit a comic shop is great. The owner is friendly and more than happy to answer questions and give suggestions. And there are lights, although not a window you can see in through. However, that shop is a rarity in my experience. Gaming has largely opened up to women in many ways (although it still has some way to go - I don't always want to be the healer/dancer/babysitter), but somehow comics has largely missed the boat on that one. It's getting better, certainly, with highter attendence of women at comic conventions and such, but it still often feels like a boys only club that sometimes lets a few girls through the door to be mostly ignored. I hope that changes!

Johanna Stokes's article is wonderful and I highly recommend it. Her suggestions of book clubs, window displays and kids' corners are spot on. I hope very much to see future articles in this series that are just as good covering related topics. I encourage you to read the article (especially if you managed to get all the way through my rant here about it!), it is well researched and extremely well written by a very intelligent and perceptive woman. I hope to read more from her sometime soon!

*Update: Viv has posted some interesting thoughts on her blog about this topic.*

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Thoughts on Movies, Books and Analysis

Michael and I spent some time tonight talking about movies. I’m not going to go into the discussion itself, but it did get me thinking. Michael sees movies as essentially meaningless entertainment. I see movies as books with moving pictures. His comments made me wonder why I feel this way about movies (and television shows, for that matter).

Why shouldn’t we look at movies the way we look at books? In some ways, it almost seems like we should hold movies more accountable than books for their quality and content. A book has maybe twelve people who really actually do any real work the content and presentation of it (authors, editors, designers, etc.). A movie, however, has closer to a hundred - fifty if you want to really be picky about who makes important input (directors, writers, actors, designers, etc.). Movies have hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on them. It’s not even remotely uncommon these days for a movie to have cost millions of dollars, even before you factor in marketing costs. A book doesn’t cost nearly that much, and the majority of the cost goes into volume rather than actual design and content. So more people’s time and energy and more money went into most movies than most books.

I am absolutely not trying to lessen the importance of books here. There is something wonderfully pure in a single writers ideas being the entire substance of the finished product. But why is a compilation of ideas and talents seen as less? If so many people work on it, aren’t you going to see that many more people’s ideas in the finished product? And shouldn’t you be able to ask a lot in quality when so many people had to be pleased for the product to be completed successfully?

Books and movies have different tools to work with. Movies have real people with real faces for the audience to see, while books can be vague and allow the reader to paint the character any way that speaks to them. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. Movies have music to guide or follow the action so that the audience is drawn in more, but books can use the music of words in narrative forms movies can’t really use and books can give us the thoughts of a character without the distractions of disembodied voices. Again, both have advantages and disadvantages. Both can help or hinder the telling of a story or conveying of a message. Who is to say one way is a higher or purer art form than the other? Or that one is more worthy of analysis?

I know that many movies (probably most big blockbusters today) are driven primarily by the corporation’s desire to make money, no matter the quality of the product. But seriously, books have that problem too these days. Do you have any idea how many books sell just because they have the name “John Grisham” on them? Or how many books are published so the company can put out more books? That’s pretty much the whole reason big series lines like “Dragonlance” and “Madison Finn” exist! There are some high quality things that come out of that, like Nancy Drew or some of Disney’s really great movies (“Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King”). So if great things can come out of it, why should we not examine them as genuine “literature”? Movies have almost become a bigger way of spreading an idea than books have! Just look at something like Michael Moore’s movies. They make huge impacts in the way people think about issues that no book, even bestsellers, can hope to do. How many Michael Moore movies can you name? How many have you seen? Now how many “current issues” books can you name? How many have you read? Even for me those numbers are scarily close (and I think I’ve only seen one Michael Moore movie).

So why shouldn’t we “read” movies as closely as we read books? Why isn’t criticism of movies as ok as criticism of books? Why aren’t the messages, even (or perhaps especially) subliminal messages, in movies worth discussing? Why can’t I complain that the inconsistencies in a movie I just saw bugged me, even if the acting and environment and general world were great? Isn’t a movie just as valid a form of conveying information and ideas and opinions and creative creations as a book is? Sure, a novel or something will take up more of the audience’s time, but so what? It’s just a different way of conveying information.

A movie has to make its message tighter and clearer than a book because it only has it’s audience’s attention for the two hours or so they are in the theatre. It’s just a different way of telling a story. Picture books take less of the audience’s time than movies, but they are valid targets of all kinds of analysis (there were no black people, why? the women were all passive and pathetic, why? the colours were great and really conveyed the feelings of anger in the character, etc.) So why shouldn’t I talk about the colours and language and stereotypes and inconsistencies in details in movies? I just don’t understand.

I don’t really understand how someone can watch a movie and not think about those things, and I think that’s my biggest problem here. I just can’t imagine thinking about it any other way. I can imagine seeing other things and coming to different conclusions, but those still involve thinking analytically about movies. For me, movies and books are just different ways of telling stories. Why should I not read into one just because it isn’t a form of storytelling that has been around for centuries? I honestly can’t see that movies are any more or less corrupt in terms of artistic integrity than books are right now. So why the difference?

I don’t think that Michael is ever really going to see movies the way that I do, but I kind of like that. It means he sees different things that I would have missed if he weren’t there to point them out. That’s part of what I like about seeing movies and reading books that other people have also experienced. Everyone sees something different, and no way is wrong. I love hearing other opinions even if I disagree (as long as they are expressed as opinions and not flat statements – but that’s a whole other discussion). I would be very sad to lose that. Analysis in a bubble doesn’t work, and like it or not we all analyse in our own little bubbles until other people give us input. While that’s not bad, the input from other sources makes the analysis not only more rich, but also perhaps more valid to more people, and thus more interesting.

Or I could be totally on crack here. Who knows.

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Fairy Tales in the News

I've been very irritated lately at the articles surfacing in the news and in the "blogosphere".

A recent study looked at a number of female victims of domestic violence and discovered that most of them identified with passive female fairy tale heroines and believed that, like the fairy tale heroines, they could change their partners if they only loved them enough. The article, of course, implies that this has more to do with the images in the fairy tales than anything else and that perhaps it is dangerous to read fairy tales to girls. I *hate* when I read this kind of thing. It is so backwards. It isn't the fairy tales' fault that women delude themselves like that. If girls are read classic fairy tales (a variety of them, not just twenty versions of Cinderella), the picture they get from them should be much more healthy and well-rounded. I think that if women are getting the wrong ideas from fairy tales than it has more to do with our attitudes and thinking about fairy tales than it does with the stories themselves. Read Bettelheim if you need further arguements about that, he is much more qualified to discuss it and eloquent about the subject than I will ever be.

Fairy tales are not the problem and studies that say they are need to dig deeper. It's more complicated - a lot more complicated.

This article reminded me of another article on fairy tales that also made me angry. This one has many of the same problems the domestic abuse study does, and made me just as angry when I first read it. It states that fairy tales mess up women's value systems when it comes to physical appearance. It also misses the point.

Fairy tales are not bad. Read your kids fairy tales. Read the articles, but think about them as well. They are not looking at the big picture, just a little thing they can track. Lesson 1 in fourth grade science is that just because when "A" happens, so does "B" it does not mean that "B" is caused by "A". These studies totally missed that day, it seems.

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More Book Questions

One of the blogs I read fairly regularly - The Mumpsimus - posted a book meme that I thought was interesting. So I decided to answer the questions myself.

The Number of Books I Own
Not a clue. Too many to count. Not nearly enough! One can never have too many books. That is one of the things I learned from my grandfather before he died. He collected books. I hope to have as many books as he had someday.

The Book I'm Currently Reading
I'm always reading more than one book. Right now I'm reading Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which is a sort of prequel to Peter Pan, only it contradicts Barrie's version a lot, so it has to be based on Disney's version like they claim. I'm also reading The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey, which is about the USA hockey team in the 1980 Olympics (the "miracle" team). Both are fun to read, but Peter gets on my nerves a lot, which detracts from it's funness. I'll write a review of it when I'm done.

Last Book I Bought
I think the last two books I bought were Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by J. T. Petty and Quiver by Stephanie Spinner.

Last Book I Read
The last book I finished was Wedding Goddess by Laurie Sue Brockway. I really enjoyed it. I'll write a review of it soon.

Five Books that Have Meant a Lot to Me
1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. It's a wonderful autobiography by a British nurse during World War I. It's a great book. It meant so much to me and was really inspirational.
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's very unique in children's literature for a variety of reasons and it's just so much fun to read!
3. Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie. I adore this book so much! It's got a magic that I've never found in any other book. Peter is a great character and Neverland is one of the most wonderful and unique fantasy worlds ever created.
4. The Winnie-the-Pooh Books by A. A. Milne. I love these books. My grandfather read them to me when I was a little kid and he gave me my set, which is leather bound and gold embossed. I recently read them to Michael and he adores them now too.
5. The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander. This is just such a fun series with such great characters and an incredibly rich world. The series has been among my favorite books for a long time.

And I'd love to see everybody answer this one. I'd love to hear people's answers!

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A Quote I Liked

I've started reading the book The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey about the 1980 Olympic team. My dad gave me my copy of it, signed by the author, because he was so proud of it. He helped Mr. Coffey a lot throughout the process of writing the book and, while I know he is probably exaggerating, the author's note in the front of the book reads (in part) "If your father had helped me any more with this, I would've had to put his name on the cover." I know exactly why Dad helped so much - because this is exactly the type of project he gets excited about, and if you can get my dad excited about your project, he's just about the best ally you could ever get. He will practically bend over backwards to help you any way he can without ever asking for anything but a "thank you" in return (and he won't bring it up if you forget the "thank you" unless you are one of his kids). I can see why this book sparked his interest. It's a fun book to read, and I'm only a little way into it. For me, having not lived through the 1980 Winter Games but hearing about it my whole life, this is a really interesting book. I grew up totally surrounded by hockey. I didn't always appreciate it at the time, but in the long run it has given me a great love for a game that I have never been any good at playing and made me a great cheerleader! I wasn't always appreciative when I was dragged off to random small towns in Wisconsin to sit in unheated ice rinks (assuming there was a building around the rink at all) with my mom squeezing the blood out of my hand every time a puck flew too close to my brother's head watching my brother and his oftening irritating (to me) friends play their hearts out, but I have some great memories from it. My father plays and my brother played and a large number of family friends play, so hockey is a game I definately came to appreciate. I don't know how I couldn't have grown to appreciate it in that atmosphere. I always have to smile when I see someone (especially a kid) lugging a hockey bag and sticks, or a mother with a worried look and warm scarf trailing along behind. There is something wonderful about hockey that I've never seen happen with any other sport (and my brother tried most of them at some point). Hockey teams and families and fans bond in a way none other do. They bond with friendships that last for years. It's amazing to me how that works. But if you think about it, they almost have to. It's a sport with a high risk of injury out in the cold that can last a very long time (hockey games can last forever, or fly by in a moment). I love that Mr. Coffey really understands this element of the game - an element I always understood better than any of the rules and remembered long after I forgot all the players names. I always envied that about hockey because none of the activities I ever did forged bonds as strong as I could see mite-level hockey forging in a single week. This is my favorite quote in the book so far because it really says what I just rambled about for longer than I intended.

"Hockey is a club that holds its members tightly, the bond forged by shared hardship and mutual passion, by every trip to the pond, where your feet hurt and your face is cold and you might get a stick in the ribs or a puck in the mouth, and you still can't wait to get back out there because you are smitten with the sound of blades scraping against ice and pucks clacking off sticks, and with the game's speed and ever-changing geometry. It has a way of becoming the center of your life even when you're not on the ice."

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Two Scoops of Raisin

Ok, so when I first heard of The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez my first step was to check out the website, right? Well the address I found was the one from the book: twoscoopsofraisin.com. So I checked that out. It's boring. White background, black text off to one side, no intro thing or header or anything, just one blog entry that isn't even dated. At the time I first looked at it, there wasn't even a link to the main site (www.raisinrodriguez.com). Now there is at least a link, but it's still totally boring. I decided that it needed some jazzing up, so I made up a quick html page that looks much better. Here is a picture of the top half of the page! If anyone is interested, I can give you the code. I'm not sure who would want it, though, and it's pretty basic! Click on the image for a larger version.

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Book Questions from Viv

On May 3, 2005 Viv listed a set of book questions and her answers. At the end she asked me to answer them too, so here are my answers!

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 (where books must be memorized, since they are burned). Which book would you be?

Tough one. I would have to say The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. It's a book about the importance of stories in human development. It seems appropriate to memorize a book about the importance of literature in a setting where books are burned. And I absolutely adore this book. It's brilliant and every parent should be required to read it. I'll blog about it more later.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Of course! I had a major crush on Prince Gwydion from the Prydain series when I was younger. I've also had crushes on Prince Andrei Bolkonsky from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Peter Pan from Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and way too many others for me to list or remember!

What is the last book you bought?

Not counting comic book trade paperbacks, the last book I bought was Mother Goose in Prose by L. Frank Baum. It's the first children's book that Baum wrote and I'm really excited to have found a copy. It is a collection of short stories that he wrote for his sons to explain why the strange things that happen in nursery rhymes happened. It's very interesting.

What are you currently reading?

I'm always reading at least two books at a time. Currently I'm reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and I'm rereading (for the sixth or seventh time) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. I love the Bettelheim book, obviously, and always learn new things when I read it. Susanna Clarke's novel is interesting, if odd. I'm generally enjoying reading it.

Five books for your desert island cruise package.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (no surprise there to anyone, I trust) Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie (again, I hope that doesn't surprise anyone) The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim A child psychology textbook (preferably a fairly new one) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (because it's an amazing book and I would love to reread it six or seven times, and a desert island would give me the time to do it)

Who are you going to pass this book meme baton to and why? (only three people). Michael: because I want to see what he would pick besides Cryptonomicon! Alan: because he's an interesting guy and I would love to see what he would say! Heather: because she always has interesting things to say and I'd love to hear her opinions about books.

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Book Quiz!

Ok, this was a pretty cool quiz. It has over sixty possible matches! I'm apparently "The Giver".


You're The Giver!
by Lois Lowry
While you grew up with a sheltered childhood, you're pretty sure everyone around you is even more sheltered. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, you were tapped on the shoulder and transported to the real world. This made you horrified by your prior upbringing and now you're tormented by how to reconcile these two lives. Ultimately, the struggle comes down to that old free will issue. Choose wisely.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

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Another Example of Poor Judgement by Adults Concerning Literature

Ok, those of you who know me are probablly pretty aware how upset I get when it comes to censorship. I've posted stuff about it and about first amendment rights on here before. This one has upset me more than usual. There is a group of parents in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas called the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools. They are fighting to remove all manner of wonderful books from the classes taught in their children's schools. Books like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", "The Awakening", "Brave New World", "Catcher in the Rye", "The Color Purple", "Crime and Punishment", "The Crusible", "Death of a Salesman", "Frankenstein", "The Glass Menagerie", "The Grapes of Wrath", "Great Expectations", "The Great Gatsby", "Hamlet", "King Henry V", "The House on Mango Street", "The Importance of Being Earnest", "Inherit the Wind", "Jane Eyre", "Julius Ceaser", "King Lear", "Macbeth", "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "A Modest Propossal", "Much Ado About Nothing", "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail", "The Once and Future King", "One Hundred Years of Solitude", "Othello", "The Picture of Dorian Gray", "Pride and Prejudice", "Ragtime", "Romeo and Juliet", "Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead", "Saint Joan", "The Scarlett Letter", "Slaughterhouse Five", "Sophie's Choice", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Taming of the Shrew", "Things Fall Apart", "The Woman Warrior" and "Wuthering Heights". They say that the school is selecting these books for students to read "over time-tested classics". Ok, when I think of "time-tested classics" I think of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, and Tolstoy. All are represented at least once on their list (of which I only listed a few). They state that:

"As Shakespeare's characters work through their humorous, tragic, or dramatic roles, they teach us something about true character and a tremendous amount about the art of creative writing. No, we do not oppose Shakespeare. We consider his works to be an obvious cornerstone of a fundamentally sound education in English literature."

I noticed several works of Shakespeare on that list. All the big ones, certainly! So, how can they say that they aren't opposing Shakespeare? And what about Dickens? How more "time-tested" and "classic" can you get? Last I remember there was no explicit sex in any of the Dickens I've read (and I've read quite a few). When was the last time you read a Jane Austen book and said "Wow! What a lot of swearing, sex and adult concepts"? I mean, seriously! What is there that is so objectionable about "Pride and Prejudice"? Ok, "The Scarlett Letter" is about a woman who committed adultary, but does anyone remember any descriptions of this? It's barely said straight out what she did!

I don't understand the purpose of these parents' complaints. And if they are disqualifying Shakespeare and Dickens, what is the "time-tested classic" literature that they propose replace it? And I did notice that several books, including "Pride and Prejudice" and "Jane Eyre" are on both their list of books they disapprove of and their list of books they wish their kids were being required to read.

In many ways their list of "approved books" is as odd as the list of books they are complaining about. I read "Anne Frank" several times as a kid. I remember there being far more explicit sexual concepts and such in that book than in "Pride and Prejudice". Where do they draw the line? How do they draw the line? What are they exactly objecting to and what are they looking for? I don't even know what a reading list they approved of would include! Their website is here if you are interested.

There is a very good article by a fifteen-year-old girl who is in this school district and opposes the parents who are trying to ban books. You might want to check it out as a good example of a thoughtful response to all of this. I would also point out that she has read many of these books and doesn't seem to be an amoral, distructive, suicidal nymphomaniac.

Sorry for the long rant, but I get very passionate about this stuff. I'm thinking about writing a letter to these people dispite the fact that I know it won't make any real difference. If you can think of something that will, please let me know! As is, I'll just have to content myself with working with groups like kidSPEAK!

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