Friday, June 28, 2013

Children's Books Time!

18. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver and illustrated by Kei Acedera.



This charming fairytale for this economically-conscious age was the perfect segue into the writing and reading class for fourth and fifth graders that I begin teaching tomorrow.

There's this certain mood and tone, a particular cadence and use of words that has become prevalent in children's literature and that I absolutely adore. It's almost a kiddie version of my beloved nineteenth-century narrator. Except a wise-cracking, cynical-but-I-still-believe-in-magic kind of kid narrator. I recognize it from classics like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lemony Snicket's books, and Catherynne M. Valente took it to linguistical heights with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Liesl & Po begins:

"On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.

...

It was as though the darkness was a sheet of raw cookie dough and someone had just taken a cookie-cutter and made a child-sized shape out of it."

Can't you just see the child-shaped cookie-cutter assaulting the raw cookie dough air?

Well. I can. The distribution of resources is a fascinatingly central issue to the book, and I do wonder if such a focused tale of haves and have-nots would have occurred in a different era.

In any case, the characters are endearing, the plot a bit twee, and the illustrations are magnificent. I chuckled to myself, remembering that when I was a kid, I groaned every time I saw an illustration. In my mind, it was a waste of a page and also cut down on the number of pages that I had really read. But the illustrations here are incorporated into the story in such a lovely manner, and not only that, but add little wordless details to the story. I am a sucker for books that don't talk down to kids, and furthermore introduce them to Words of Beautiful Importance.

The only word for this book as a complete product, as both author and illustrator recognize is: ineffable.

Highly recommended for children, especially between the ages of eight and eleven. Also recommended for all adult lovers of children's literature and anyone who just needs a refreshing break of a read.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Eight Books I've Read So Far in 2013

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a little more challenging than it would normally be for me, as I've read significantly fewer books at this point in the year than any other year in recent memory. Of course, I've also read far more academic articles and parts of academic books at this point in the year than any other year in recent memory!


1. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver (review to come)

2. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

4. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

5. Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen

6. Contact by Carl Sagan

7. Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

8. Triton by Samuel R. Delaney

I don't really have more that I think deserve to be on this list, but I'm sure there will be more before too long!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Continuing the List

These are the last three books we read for my Utopian Science Fiction class, I highly recommend Woman on the Edge of Time and less so Wild Seed, I was less taken with Patternmaster.


15. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

What really drew me in about Woman on the Edge of Time was the social status of the protagonist. Connie is an older, minority (Latina) woman who has been hospitalized repeatedly for mental instability. She is essentially the lowest of the low on society's totem pole. And it is amazing what this means society can do to her, all sorts of oppression, down to the grossest of experiments and most invasive procedures can be inflicted on her because of her inferior social position.

And yet, Connie has access to another world, a world where the social distinctions that oppress her; race, gender, class, even her mental condition (that only questionably exists in the first place) have been eradicated. Mattapoisett is a town on this new Earth, that has evolved from our own. Babies are conceived and gestated mechanically, genes are randomly mixed, both men and women serve as caretakers (even breast-feeders), and culture is detached from race. That is, each town has adopted a culture, be it Cherokee Indian, Harlem Black, or Jewish Ashkenazi, but the inhabitants of that town range widely in skin color and genetic makeup. The world of Mattapoisett is probably the most attractive to me of all the utopias we have studied, but Connie within the book and my peers in class raised understandable objections to the potential offensiveness of some of its suggestions.

If Mattapoisett is a utopia, the indication is that utopia cannot exist if people continue to construct identity as we currently do (in the Western world at least). As long as there are those who identify as "woman," "man," "black," "white," "Asian," what-have-you, then we cannot break free of the stereotypes and discrimination that come with these labels. One person in my class did bring up the idea that the white male body is our society's "unmarked" body. A white man can be whatever he wants and not have to represent his "type" of person, a luxury that is not available to women and minorities. However, if we take away these identities, if we take away, or blur, the physical and cultural markers of those identities, then we can all be unmarked bodies. We can all represent only ourselves.

Highly recommended, especially to readers of science fiction and anyone interested in gender and race studies.

See more on my thoughts on this book from an earlier post.

16. Patternmaster by Octavia Butler

Teray finally emerges from school, having secured the position of Apprentice to a Housemaster in the Pattern. His Housemaster will teach him to use the Pattern, the psychic connection between all Patternists, so that he can one day have a House of his own. Instead, he is kidnapped by another Housemaster, Coransee, who turns out to be his brother. Teray and Coransee are the only sons of the Patternmaster Rayal, the leader of the Patternists, and his first wife. Rayal is fading, and Coransee will use any means necessary to ensure the succession for himself.

The themes of freedom vs. oppression are here, but the hierarchical, practically feudal, social system is strangely accepted, and the book is overall less than satisfactory, though it raises some interesting ideas. However its prequel Wild Seed has much more depth and variety, though it is also unsatisfying in a more visceral manner.

17. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed is, I believe, the first book in the Patternist series, although Patternmaster was the first written. It centers around the centuries-long struggle between Doro, a man or masculine soul who takes on the bodies of others, and Anyanwu, a black woman who can shape her body to take on any living form.

Doro aspires to shape a community of people with strange abilities like his, yet not so strange that he cannot control them. If anyone gets too out of hand, he has no objection to walking in their skin (thereby killing that body's original inhabitant). However, his abilities and callousness frighten Anyanwu, who nonetheless allows him to breed her in order to protect children she has left behind. When finally she realizes Doro will not cease his predatory ways, she escapes him, and breeds a secret family of her own.

It's strange to imagine Doro and Anyanwu creating the at once archaic and futuristic society in Patternmaster, but yet here are definitely strange abilities and parallels to the racism that infiltrates the society in which Doro and Anyanwu are depicted for the longest portion of the book.

Weird and interesting, though not a high priority read.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesdays are over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

Books I'm Teaching!

1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

2. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Books for My Academic Work

3. Sappho in Early Modern England by Harriette Andreadis

4. Early Modern Metaphysical Literature by Michael Morgan Holmes

For Fun

5. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

6. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel

7. The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne (ARC from LibraryThing!)

8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

9. Night Film by Marisha Pessl

10. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Porn & Revolution in the Peaceable Kingdom by Micaela Morrisette

2. Porn & Revolution in the Peaceable Kingdom by Micaela Morrisette

Another Tor. com short story or "novelette."

Summary:

A sentient slime mold can't keep his pet human from rutting with the neighbors' pets and feral humans.

My Thoughts:

I wonder if merely switching the roles of humans and animals in society is a "novum"* or a mere costume-change.

I think the novum, or estranging device, in this story might be methods of reproduction. In the story, animals (including bacteria) reproduce asexually, while humans remain sexual, in order to maintain their evolutionary inferiority.

*Novum means "strange newness" It is the term that sf critic Darko Suvin uses to denote the device of estrangement in an sf novel.

Favorite Quotes:

"She had a big bathtub shaped like a conch shell that Tim could fill with different human-safe soaps so the taps spilled out warm bubbling water in just the right combination of perfumes and cleansers."

"Something enormous and heavy and wet welled up in Tim, a huge choking bubble, a balloon full of dead, empty air."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jacks and Queens at the Green Mill

I promised myself I'd read more short stories this year, and Tor.com has a-plenty.

1. Jacks and Queens at the Green Mill by Marie Rutkoski

Summary:

A spirit plays a game of cards in an alternate Chicago.

Favorite Quotes:

"'Silk and ice,' he said, running the words together so that they sounded like silken ice."

"Music floated out. It infused the night, rich as brassy ozone, light as pattering rain."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten Books Featuring Travel

I do enjoy a good travel book and there are many on my to-read list, but here are some of my favorites so far! Top Ten Tuesdays are over at the Broke and the Bookish.

1. A Taste of Adventure by Anik See

2. What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge

It's a kids' book, but it introduced me to Nice, Rome, Naples, and other places I want to go someday.

3. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Paris to Pamplona...(and Lady Brett Ashley to boot).

4. Logavina Street by Barbara Demick

She stays in one place the whole time, but learning about Sarajevo during the Bosnian War was really fascinating. I didn't know much about Czechoslovakian history before (not that I do now, but I know more than I did).

5. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Speaking of Sarajevo, this fictional book traces the movement of the Sarajevo Haggadah in time AND place.

6 A Year in the World by Frances Mayes

She is such a beautiful writer and I'm kind of jealous of the apparent wealth that lets her have all these amazing travel experiences.

7 Daisy Miller by Henry James

Fueling my desire to travel to Vevey, Switzerland. And Rome.

8 The Alhambra by Washington Irving

I read this before I went to the Alhambra. Just a wonderful account of the stories and legends of Moorish Spain.

9 The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

All about the pilgrimage...

10. Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

One man's (mental) walking tour of England...