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Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

I felt a little let down by the novella and novelette categories, that the offerings were a mixed bag– something that other people I know have agreed with and said is how the Hugos often are. Which shouldn’t be surprising, really, as there’s a wide variety of tastes and preferences and they’re called “The Hugo Awards” and not “The Brigid Awards,” so I shouldn’t expect to love everything on offer.

And then I hit the short story category and three of the four stories deeply affected me and made me cry and the fourth was just eh. Not for me. If I could nominate three of those short stories for first place then I would. It’s a painful decision, and that’s super great.

Before I talk about the stories, I’m going to tell you something ridiculous.

I read two of the stories, couldn’t find the third I wanted to read, and then started reading “A Stranger In Olondria.” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is a really long short story. Huh. This sure is slow to start. My goodness, this is pretty long for a short story.” Then, uh, I realized I’d started reading A NOVEL and not A SHORT STORY. So I stopped (which was hard, actually, looking forward to picking it up again) to read the very excellent short story by the same author.

The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, is a story set in Thailand about Thai people and culture and Buddhism, written by a white man from the Netherlands. It reminded me very much of “The Milagro Beanfield War”: both works are very earnest, but also condescending and exotifying toward the people/cultures they are about.

Selkie Stories Are For Losers, by Sofia Samatar, is a fantastic story about loss and love. It’s a coming of age story, and it’s a story about stories. The protagonist is still reeling from the sudden loss of her mother (who may or may not be a Selkie; she may or may not have accidentally returned her mother’s skin while looking for something else) when she meets, befriends, (and falls in love with) a young woman whose mother has tried to kill herself several times and who has basically checked out of life. They are both motherless, in their own way. They are both creating their own homes, their own families, or trying to, in their own way. It’s a beautiful and deftly written book, full of longing and bitterness and sorrow and hope and fear and love, so much love. And I really love Selkies and Selkie stories. And the fact I didn’t rate this story higher speaks volumes about the quality of the short stories on this ballot.

If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky, is an incredibly powerful short story about love and hate and destruction and hope and which lives are considered important. I think a lot of people are put off by the opening cadence of the story, which is a bit like a children’s story (notably, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” but it reminded me of some other kid stuff I’ve read to my own kid) but that stylistic choice is very important one that gives the story a lot of its power. This is very much a social justice/social commentary piece (as, in my opinion, the BEST Science Fiction is), and it is utterly devastating. I highly recommend it, but have some tissues or a sleeve or something handy. (For some reason, this wasn’t included in the voter packet I downloaded. I’m very glad I sought it out and was able to find it online.)

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu, is a stunning bit of character-driven fiction that revolves around personal relationships that are hampered by the odd fact that, suddenly and for no reason, cold water started falling out of nowhere on people when they lie. It ranges from a clammy mist, to a drizzle, to a torrential downpour depending on the severity of the lie. It’s greatly impacted the very private and closed off Matt, who loves his boyfriend and loves his traditional Chinese parents and sister, and is terrified of letting any of them down. Matt has to come to terms with what he wants, and what he needs… and he has to learn how to open himself up to his boyfriend and to his parents and let them in. The cold water falling down is a fantastic narrative device, something that has utterly fundamentally changed the world without changing human nature, something that reveals Matt’s lies to himself… as well as his truths.

It was SO HARD deciding how to rank these stories, and I’m SO HAPPY that’s the case. I utterly adored Samatar’s short (and have really been enjoying her longer work). She manages to capture characters and their world so very well. I’d like to read more about those girls. Swirsky’s short is absolutely heart breaking, wrenching, so sad and so beautiful, and so wonderfully written. But Chu’s piece? It’s so very human, and so hopeful in the end.

I want to say a special thank you to Chu for managing to break the streak of male mediocrity in this year’s ballot. What a powerhouse of a story.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

The 2014 Hugo Ballot has five novellas: three by men, one by a woman, and one by a man and woman team. I’m going to review them from least-liked to most-liked.

The Butcher of Khardov, by Dan Wells, is a tie-in to the Warmachine game franchise and was poorly written enough that I didn’t finish reading it. I found myself describing the reading experience as “slogging” so I just stopped. If I were a Warmachine fan, my feelings might well be different, but probably not: this is an incredibly genretastic OMGMANPAIN story with very little that sets it apart. The writing isn’t that good, either, and the fake Russian-esque stuff irritated me (they have a powerful clear liquor called vyatka which is totes different from vodka u guis no really it is). I liked one scene early in the novella where it becomes clear that the protagonist is haunted by his dead wife, and dances with “her” (actually a huge axe) in an inn as people look on, horrified. It’s an intriguing scene, and gosh do I love ghost stories. But that scene is marred by the “you can tell I’m the good guy because I loudly object to a person insulting women, all men but me are abusive rapists” trope, and also by the protagonist going all ragey and murdering every single person in the inn for ~reasons~. After that it becomes pretty clear that ghostwife is your pretty basic idealized woman-on-a-pedestal who gets fridged for MAXIMUM MANPAIN. The negatives really outweighed the positives to this story, and I spent most of it feeling a little lost. If I were familiar (at all) with the game, I might have liked it more but, again, I didn’t think the writing was that great. And I’ve read ALL the “Vampire: The Masquerade” novel tie-ins. So trust me, I know from bad game novelizations.

The Chaplain’s Legacy, by Brad Torgersen, is a military genre piece about a chaplain’s assistant who accidentally averted human genocide after encountering an insect-like alien race. As a result of this, he was hella promoted. Now that the aliens are saying “nope nm we gonna kill u” he’s been called in to avert things again. As with Torgersen’s novelette, his military protagonist is anti-military-rank-and-protocal and has a folksy nickname and hooks up with a female character who exists primarily to motivate him, and makes really strained and unfunny sex “jokes.” Although an atheist, he adheres to some pretty stereotypical Judeo-Christian beliefs about sexual mores (if u dun love a grl u shdn’t slep w/her or its WORNG). The idea that an atheist is teaching an alien race about religion, and that he’s a spiritual inspiration to religious people, is a cool idea, but the writing is just so… blah. The characters remain shallow and uninteresting, overall. There’s a lot of “it’s in the script.” And Torgersen has a pretty anti-technology beef in the story that’s a little unrealistic. Namely, the alien race has been SO dependent on technology for SO LONG that they FORGOT they can FRAMBLE the KLURTZ!!!! Thankfully, there’s a HUMAN around to remind them of REAL LIFE and ACTUAL NATURE and INSTINCT. Oh gosh if ONLY those aliens didn’t have TECHNOLOGY preventing them from realizing how awesome faith is!!! There’s a few kernals of interesting ideas in here, but eh. Better than his novelette, but that’s damning him with faint praise. If you’re looking for military sf that reads like something written in the early 1960s, this might just be your bag.

Equoid, by Charles Stross, was a real mixed bag for me. There was stuff I really liked about it (unicorns as horrific creatures; a re-imagining of Lovecraft’s work) and stuff I didn’t like or didn’t think worked. One of the issues was that this Novella is part of a larger series, so I alternated between feeling kind of lost and feeling clumsily info-dumped. It’s not the only piece that was part of a larger series, and I wonder if the Hugos shouldn’t have a category that’s specifically for pieces of larger works. Another issue is that the story tries to be wacky humorous, like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchet, kind of off beat and wry and whimsical, and it feels forced and often falls flat… especially in contrast to the very visceral horror. It’s not a good mix. But there were two things that bothered me the most. The first is the idea that racism, virulent BNP racism, is an external thing pushed upon humans by evil, malevolent outside forces. Look. People who are racist aren’t monsters. They are human beings. Insisting that the only reason humans act in racist ways is because of horrific external influences just… it’s shitty. The second thing I really didn’t enjoy, that left me very uncomfortable, is the incredible and sexualized violence inflicted upon women in the story. Yes, yes, it’s spinning off of unicorn mythos in which (female) virgins play a big role. But I am left utterly cold when a teen aged woman is literally being eaten alive from the inside out and a male character talks about how turned on it leaves him despite the terror of it, and is saved from inadvertently fucking her when he catches sight of the monstrous barbed tentacle her clitoris has turned into. Women– girls, really, ranging in age from 4 years old to teen aged– are mind controlled, tortured slowly, and killed in agonizing ways. A handful of men are eaten and one gets shot and killed, but it is not the same level of torture, and throughout the narrative we’re meant to empathize with the male protagonist and realize how utterly awful it is that the unicorns kill men. Not that they enslave, torture, and kill the women they use as bait. That’s just a thing that goes on, kind of in the background, oh isn’t it a shame. And it’s really frustrating for two reasons: 1) I’m tired of it. I’m just so, so tired of it. 2) I keep thinking about this story. For all its flaws, bits of it really sunk into me and I keep mulling it over in my head. And every time I do that, I also get the image of naked girls being consumed from the inside, alternately whispering for help with their own voices and tempting men closer with horrific shub-niggaruth voices. That’s how women exist in the novella, as sacrificial horrors. There’s also jabs at little girls who like unicorn stories because if there’s one group of people who isn’t mercilessly shat upon for liking stuff, it’s little girls, right? I think there’s enough here that I liked that I’d be willing to try more stuff by the author, but I’m really turned off by the way women (girls, actually. literally little girls.) are treated here. Stross has a novel up for voting as well, so I’ll sample that and see how it goes.

Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages, is a marvelous piece of American Magical Realism. Set in a very specific place over very specific time periods, the novella explores America’s history of racism (and to a degree, classism and sexism) and the concepts of invasive species, cryptozoology, and what it means to be human. The setting is described so well, so completely, that it feels familiar; the characters are wonderfully drawn and interesting; the story is an intriguing one. This well polished gem of a story was a very pleasant surprise. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it, but it’s very engaging. I’ve read some comments that one needs to be familiar with the Tarzan mythos to understand the story. I’m noddingly acquainted with it, no more, and didn’t feel any lack… which was a nice change of pace from all the pieces on the ballot that are part of larger works. This is a pretty short review. It’s a good story, very solid and excellently crafted. I’ll be on the lookout for more pieces by the authors, whether working jointly or individually.

Six Gun Snow White, by Cat Valente, was the best of the novellas… but I should note that I’m already a fan of Valente’s work and also love retellings of fairy tales so I was doubly biased. This is an eloquent novella that mixes the structure and theme of both classic European fairy tales and non-European folk tales. The story is rooted very strongly in a specific time, and several specific places, locations sketched with such detail that they feel familiar. Valente does a marvelous job of capturing Snow White’s voice, and deals beautifully with thematic elements like racism, colonialism, sexism, and domestic abuse. These all sound like heavy topics, and they are, but Valente manages very deftly not to write OMG AN ~~ISSUES~~ novella. It’s just a story about a person who has a bunch of bullshit in her life, and handles it to the best of her ability. I saved the reading of this novella for last, as something to look forward to. However, again, if I could award first place to two works I would. This and “Wakulla Springs” were both fantastic.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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There were 5 nominations in the 2014 Hugo Novelette category, two by women and three by men. Two were strong stories, two were mediocre, and one went unread. I’m going to review them from least liked to most liked, and omit entirely the one I didn’t read because I can’t comment on something I didn’t read.

Of the novelettes I read, I liked The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen the least. Part of this is simply a genre thing: although I’ve read a lot of military SF (in part because that’s what was predominantly available in my small town library when I was younger) I’m not a huge fan of it. I’m familiar enough with it, though, that it really feels like this work (and his novella, another military SF thing) have the TRAPPINGS of military SF without an UNDERSTANDING of it. Like, he’s read a bunch of Heinlein and early 1960s era milsf and is imitating the genre in a lazy, shallow way. It’s got, you know, a military man who just super hates military command and rank and also he has an Eastern European last name that gosh darn but nobody can pronounce it so he gets a nickname, and there’s a female Marine who gets nicknamed “Chesty” but hey don’t worry it’s not because she has TITS and it’s a CONSTANT REMINDER THAT SHE HAS TITS lol no she’s nicknamed after famous marine Chesty Puller so just relax already her nickname isn’t sexually loaded reminder that she’s a woman with boobs! The antagonists are Evil Communist Chinese Hoards who are sneaky and inscrutable, and there’s a woman president who’s spoken of with scorn etc. The writing itself really needed a stronger editor. The story was mediocre, the characters weak and not really memorable or likeable. It feels really dated. This novelette did absolutely nothing new with the genre or the tropes it dragged out. I’ve read other reviews saying it’s not as good as his usual work, and his novella IS slightly better, but has a lot of the same flaws. In the piece’s defense, nobody spanks Chesty or tweaks her nose, but her character’s had all the depth and appeal of a floor lamp. The protagonist wasn’t much better filled out, though. If you’re a big fan of military SF you might like this more than I did, or you might just get angry at it. My youngest brother’s a Marine, I want to float both pieces past him and see what he thinks of them.

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang, has a promising premise but a flawed execution: a journalist in the near future sets out to write a well researched, nuanced piece about a popular piece of technology that many people are claiming will ruin humanity forever. Just as we in our time have smart phones and blogs and instagrams and twitter, people of his time have “lifelogs,” which are kind of like googleglass I guess. They record every aspect of their lives, and these recordings can be used in court. However, they’re difficult to search because there’s no tags or keywords or whatever, so you wind up doing a lot of scrolling. A company figures out a way to easily index and search lifelogs, and sells their product, making it a hell of a lot easier for users to replay exact experiences in full. The narration is interspersed with an account of a young man from a “primitive” tribe taught to read and write by a European missionary, and discusses how stuff we take for granted (like reading and writing) is technology that changed how we remember, see the world, interact, etc. There’s some really interesting ideas in the story, but there’s also some lazy writing, some florid writing, and I’m really tired of the trope of poor put upon suffering male hero has a flighty bitch ex-wife who abandoned him to “find herself” and she’s so horrible and such a bitch. Yes, it’s revealed in the book that the narrator is a real dickbag who rewrites his memories to make himself the long suffering victim (as all humans do) but still. There’s a lot of real fundamental laziness going on, and despite the interesting ideas presented, Chiang doesn’t do much with them. The narrator, and his daughter, remain ciphers. The story doesn’t seem very emotionally invested in them at all. I almost didn’t finish the story… there just didn’t seem a lot of POINT to it.

The Waiting Stars, by Aliette de Bodard is an absolutely incredible story about identity and family and colonialism. (If you click the link, it should take you to de Bodard’s website, where you can download the novelette or read it right there.) In the far future, there are sentient ships, born of women, in a strongly Vietnamese culture. The story follows two women: one is a Da Viet woman trying to reclaim a captured ship, who she considers her Great Aunt, from the “Outsiders” who have captured it; the other is an orphaned Da Viet woman who was “rescued” as a child along with a bunch of other girls and raised in an orphanage where she was “civilized” and given a European-sounding name and forced to forget her culture of origin (language, food, dress, religion, family, etc). I’ve noticed that the women writers on the Hugo Ballot ALL addressed race and/or gender issues, and “The Waiting Stars” tackles racism and transracial adoption and colonialism in a BIG but not heavy handed way. The writing is deft, lyrical, and powerful. The world and the characters and the politics are incredibly real feeling. The story left me wanting more: more of the characters, more of the world, more of the writing, more. I absolutely will be seeking out more by de Bodard, she’s a talent to watch.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, is the story of a now-elderly woman astronaut who was one of the first to travel to Mars and set up a colony there. (once again, click the link to read the story.) This is the first novelette in the packet I read, and it utterly floored me. I was thrown, at first, by the references to Dorthy Gale and Kansas, but moving past that, it’s a fantastic exploration of what would have happened if the USA had had a functioning space program that reached Mars in the early 1950s… and had included women in the program. Elma, married to her programmer love who hasn’t much longer to live, is desperate to fly again. She’s given the opportunity to do just that, but it would mean abandoning her husband to die without her present… and without any children to support him, as they decided not to have kids because of her astronaut career. It’s a beautiful and poignant story about regret and about hope, about inspiration, and about love and devotion. I’m not going to lie, it made me tear up… and it put Kowal very clearly on my reading radar. As with de Bodard, I’m absolutely going to keep an eye out for her work.

The last two novelettes reviewed were difficult. I love them both so much, but in different ways and for different things. If I could, I’d vote for them both to be number one, but failing that, I gave Kowal’s piece the #1 slot. If I’d read de Bodard’s first, to be perfectly honest, my ranking might have been different though.

I did not read the other novelette.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

Nesko got this awesome new job that, while challenging, also pays him literally like twice what he was making at his previous job plus we have medical benefits. Which means I can finally get some mouth stuff taken care of (including a bone infection I’ve had for over a year HA HA FUN HOW AM I STILL ALIVE) and also we have some spare scratch to do fun stuff like repaint Niko’s room (so cute!) and buy a voting membership to LONCON. I’d wanted to join previously but we couldn’t afford it, and the biggest way I was able to convince Nesko to pop for it this year was that “The Wheel Of Time” is up for consideration as a complete work which means that the ENTIRE SERIES is included in the voting packet and purchasing the electronic versions of each book individually would cost more than the membership. That went a long way toward convincing him. So we signed up, I got the voting packet, and I’ve been plowing through the material.

There’s been three things about this years’ Hugos that a lot of people are talking about.

The most minor thing is that one of the publishers is only including excerpts of novels (they had three that made the nomination cut) and not the entire novel. One of those novels I bought as soon as I heard that, because I’d been wanting to anyway. Then I bought Anne Leckie’s novel because I’d heard amazing things about it and it was $1.99. That leaves the third novel which I am going to see if I like from the excerpt and may purchase or may just judge based on the excerpt. As many people have pointed out, it’s easier to track down a free version of a novel than a short story, novella, or novelette. If it’s good enough and popular enough to be a successful nomination, then you can probably get it from a friend or the library. The voting packet is a favor and a perk, not something a voter is entitled to. Hugo voters pay for the privilege of voting, not getting a bunch of free books and stuff. I really hope these three authors aren’t hurt by their publisher’s choice, especially as they are up against freaking WHEEL OF TIME but hey.

Another relatively minor thing, touched on above, is that WHEEL OF FREAKING TIME, a F O U R T E E N novel series, is up for consideration as a whole work. For people like Nesko, that’s going be weighted based on nostalgia alone, and also perhaps pity because Jordan died while working on it and his wife has been BUSTING ASS to keep his dream alive and get the series properly finished and published. And apparently Brandon Sanderson (the new author) is a really stand up guy. So a lot of long term voters/members are discussing how to properly and appropriately and fairly change the rules to create a new category or prevent this from happening against because COME ON, fourteen books, helllllllll.

The more major thing is that Larry Correia put together a list for “the sad puppies,” authors whose WELL DESERVING AND TOTES AWESOME!!!! works never win Hugos because the gosh darn liberal feminazi jack booted socialist communist thugs are KEEPING THEM DOWN. One of the first and foremost on his list is Vox Day, the only person to be kicked out of the SFWA (for using official SFWA platforms to spread misogynist bullshit), who famously referred to N. K. Jemison as “a savage.” He is intensely racist and sexist and homophobic and very emblematic of certain old guard SFF who want all these Black people and women and assorted scumbags to get off their lawn and never write again because ew who cares about anything but straight white men over the age of 35. Correia was pretty successful with over half his suggestions getting on the final ballot. A whole lot of people have been speaking out against his actions, urging his fans who wouldn’t otherwise buy LONCON memberships last year to do so so they could nominate these works. A WHOLE LOT of people have been speaking out against his personal politics, and even more so against Vox Day. An awful lot of folks have been complaining that the Hugos are nothing more than a popularity contest.

Well, duh.

Personally, I have no issue with someone advocating, hard, for a creator or group of creators. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Some folks have been alleging that Correia and/or Day personally invested a bunch of money in buying “fake” Loncon accounts simply to nominate and then vote. This sounds… farfetched. Not impossible, but farfetched. And I want to point out that when Mark Oshiro and his fans pooled money to buy Loncon memberships to vote in the Hugo awards, and had specific slate of people to vote for, nobody (that I’m aware of) objected to that. It was just fans being fans. (It’s also what REALLY got me interested in voting in the Hugos, btw) Is it because Oshiro is a passionate fan while Correia and Day are professional writers? Is it because Oshiro is a gay Latino raised by an Asian family who speaks out about homophobia, domestic violence, misogyny, etc while Correia and Day are deeply invested in the status quo of white heterosexual men ruling the world? I do not know. I also don’t really care, when it comes down to it.

I don’t think Correia’s slate of nominations, that him urging his fans to get a membership and vote, was a bad thing.

But I do think that every single work I’ve ready by someone who he’s nominated has been… mediocre at best and pretty dismissive toward women. And I know that I’m not going to read Correia’s work or Day’s work, because I know that the entire time I read it I’ll be braced for something casual and ugly to come out and I’m tired of reading and waiting for the casual ugliness.

Years ago, someone asked Seanan McGuire when her female characters would be raped. Not IF they would be raped, but WHEN, because the idea, the very common idea, is that rape is something that happens to women to motivate them/males in their lives. It’s just a thing that happens. Like sunburn. Like the common cold. Can’t avoid it. It’s both utterly routine and also the worst thing in the entire world worse than death. And she responded that her female characters would not ever be raped, that she would not write rape. And I started getting REALLY interested in reading her stuff. And I picked up her “Toby Daye” series and I liked it, and during one of the books Toby’s in a really tight situation and being menaced aggressively, emotionally and physically, by a much larger man. And I realized that I didn’t need to worry that she was going to be raped. And an invisible weight, one that I didn’t know I was carrying around, rolled off my shoulders. I pick up McGuire’s (she also writes as Mira Grant) works and I read them and there’s a freedom I feel as I read them. I hadn’t realized until I started reading her stuff how much I brace myself for the inevitable rape. It’s incredibly liberating and wonderful not to have to worry about that, not to carry that weight around.

Correia and Day’s work will be the opposite of that. I know that I’ll spend the entire time waiting for a woman character to be raped, or threatened with rape, or some dude will leer at a woman and the protagonist will go five rounds with him because he “failed to respect women” or some bullshit, and the women will be props and excuses and motivations and not characters. I’ll spend the entire time waiting to hear about how Black/Latin@/Asian/their equivalent are inferior to White people, that they’re savages, that non-Christian characters (or whatever the allegorical equivalent is) all deserve to be murdered. And life’s too short for that.

I’m going to review the works included under the Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and John W. Campbell award sections over the next few days. I’m not really going to touch on Correia’s or Day’s works, and if I didn’t finish something I’ll note that I didn’t and why. (I’ll also note if I’m already a fan of the author, which duh will predispose me to liking their work.)

I’m not going to be voting for best screen play, because I’m unfamiliar with most of the works, or with Best Dramatic Presentation because I don’t really give a fuck about Doctor Who, etc.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve read more male authors than female authors, and the male authors have all been pretty mediocre: poor, lazy writing; shallow characters; cliched tropes that add nothing new; stereotypes galore. The female authors, on the other hand, all have produced sparkling gems of excellent tight writing about the human condition, opening existing tropes to new study, creating characters that I care deeply about. I don’t know if this is just a coincidence and I haven’t hit on the really good male writers yet, if it’s a prime example of women needing to be twice as good to get half the credit, or if it’s the effect of the ballot being larded with Correia’s hand-picked authors who… just aren’t that good but share his politics. I really don’t know. But I formed most of my opinions about these works without knowing the gender of the author.

I also want to note that it was HARD making a decision about Best Fanwriter, and I wish the fiction sections had that level of high quality writing, passion, and interest.

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Reading Wednesday

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 08:33
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Are you on Goodreads? I am!. Why don’t you head on over and check out my reviews.

In the meantime, here are some books that Niko especially enjoyed.

What books do YOUR kids enjoy? What books do you enjoy reading to your kids? What books stand up well to the “read this book 50 times in a row” test? Hit me up in comments!

"The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish"

“The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish”

“The Day I Swapped my Dad For Two Goldfish,” by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, is the charming and seriously weird story of a kid who swaps his dad for two goldfish. His mom objects (of course) and he has to follow a chain of swaps to get his dad back. It’s a little adventure story. The illustrations are really something else. I bought this book in 1997, WELL in advance of having kids.

"Shimmer and Splash"

“Shimmer and Splash”

“Shimmer & Splash: The Sparkling World Of Sea Life,” by Jim Arnosky, is a lushly illustrated book by an artist/naturalist who really looks like he loves what he’s doing. This is a fantastic introduction to the ocean and the life in it, although it’s also very text heavy, so it can be hard to sit down and read aloud in one sitting. We usually read sections of this book, or Niko looks at it himself. Arnosky has written a lot of books about ~NATURE~ and I want to get more of them for Niko. NOTE: I won this book in a giveaway at Bebeh Blog.

"Dogs On The Bed"

“Dogs On The Bed”

“Dogs On The Bed,” by Elizabeth Bluemle & Anne Wilsdorf, is a rollicking, goofy, rhyming account of what happens when you have a bunch of dogs in your bed. It also made me miss having a dog, while being glad I’m not dealing with a bed-stealing, shedding, slobbery, fur furnace any more. A mixed bag! The illustrations are absolutely charming and expressive and the writing is playful and fun. This is a book that lends itself well to reading outloud, and expressively. I think the people who will most appreciate this book are people who love dogs and have more than one of them. A really fun read!

dinothesaurus

“Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings,” by Douglas Florian, is a playful and quirky book about dinosaurs. Unlike a lot of dinosaur books for kids, the text isn’t just rhyming. No, it’s actual straight up poetry, playing with line breaks and stresses and language. The poems are bouncy and fun, a joy to read aloud, unlike most stilted, predictable rhyming couplets you see in kidlit. The illustrations are likewise unique and crafted, vaguely reminiscent of Dave McKean’s painting-collages, but simplified. Toward the back of the book is more information about the dinosaurs mentioned as well as a bibliography of texts for more and deeper reading. If you’ve got a dinosaur lover for a kid, this book is a good addition to your library.

"It's Time For Preschool"

“It’s Time For Preschool”

“It’s Time For Preschool,” by Esmé Raji Codell & Sue Rama is a scripting book for kids entering school. A lot of kids don’t handle change or the unexpected well, and giving them a script and telling them what to expect can be very helpful. This book opened a lot of discussion and reassurance, and I’m going to pick it up again before Niko starts school this fall.

What Lives In A Shell?

What Lives In A Shell?

“What Lives In A Shell,” by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld & Helen K. Davie, is a book about shells and the animals that live in them. Some live on land, some live on water. Some are large, some are small. This early science book, designed for pre-k and kindergarteners, is a nice introduction to shelled animals. The text, and sentences, are short and engaging and the illustrations are clear and attractive. The book stands up well to repeat reads. It’s a great introduction to science book. I’m very pleased with this series.

get_wet

” I Get Wet,” by Vicki Cobb & Julia Gorton, is a solid science book about the science of water, including some fun and easy hands-on experiments kids and adults can do together. The text is simple and easy to understand, with some interesting artistic typography in places. The illustrations are fun, too.

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Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

For those of you unaware, I’m on Good Reads. I enter First Reads contests and was lucky enough to score a copy of Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations, edited by Paula Guran. I’m about 2/3s through and was really enjoying it, my only regret that the Sarah Monette story in it is one I’ve already read, when Patricia Briggs’ “Star Of David” really threw me for a loop. A big old racist loop.

The story is called “Star Of David” even though nobody in the story is, apparently, Jewish. There’s a kid who’s Romany and in the foster care system, and he’s ~~A GYPSY~ and ~~A WIZARD~~ because “Most wizards have at least a little Gypsy blood.” Gypsies: they are magical paranormal creatures, not human beings! Totally fictional fantasy creatures! WITH MAGIC POWERS!!! His great grandmother “survived Dachau because the American troops came just in time — and because she kept her mouth shut when the Nazis wanted information.” Unlike all those dead Romany and Jews who didn’t keep their mouths shut and thus deserved to die or something? I don’t even know. PRO TIP MS BRIGGS: It is Jewish people who were marked with the Star of David, while Romany (and lesbians) were marked with a black triangle.

She also makes a snide comment about how “rich people” don’t foster or adopt kids in the US foster system (which is untrue and a weird thing to say), and that instead they chose babies from China or Romania. Which, ok, the story was first published back in 2008, but Romania outlawed foreign adoption back in 2004 due to concerns about black market babies and ESPECIALLY about babies being stolen (or bought) from impoverished Romany women. Like, the government had straight up concerns that some women were being turned into baby making factories for export and said hey now, enough of that. You haven’t been able to get a Romanian baby for a VERY long time unless you can prove you’re related fairly closely to said baby (or child). Maybe in 2007/2008 babies from Africa and Haiti weren’t a big deal yet so she didn’t mention them? Or maybe she’s buying into the idea that that Romany and Romanian are basically the same thing and just had LOLGYPSIES on the brain?

The main character, Stella, has “milk and coffee skin” and dark kinky hair, but her (werewolf) father who literally tore her mother to shreds, killing her in a domestic dispute, has skin “dark as the night” which keeps him “safely hidden in the shadows where he and people like him belonged.” So you’ve got a dark skinned Black man who literally is a violent animal, who murdered his wife (oops, but it was an accident, he’s really a good guy, HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH?????), and who needs to stay in the shadows where “people like him” (not WEREWOLVES like him, PEOPLE like him) belong.

This anthology features Jim Butcher, Elizabeth Bear, and Sarah Monette– three authors who’ve had moments of infamy for racism in their work/social media dealings– and WHOMP WHOMP here comes a fourth spouting off about fantasy Gypsies being inherently magical. Good job dehumanizing a group of people already widely dehumanized!

I’m so fucking tired of this. I’m really tired of feeling like I’m walking through a pleasant grassy field studded with daisies and WHOOPS! hidden landmines. Am I going to step on one? Is this the step that’s going to lead me into a racist explosion? How about this one? Whooops, just stepped on a sexist landmine! KABOOM! Consuming media shouldn’t be this fucking stressful. And, you know, I’m a white girl in an acceptably monogamous heterosexual relationship, so racism and homophobia bother me but they don’t get under my skin in a personal way the way they do for other people because they aren’t as personal (duh). But it’s still an issue and it’s an issue I am just so fucking tired of running into. Surely we can do better? It’s the fucking 21st century!

I was really getting into this book, making notes about authors I want to read more of. And now I’m reluctant to read further because if the editor let something like Briggs’ story slip in, what’s to stop there being more of the same?

Briggs also has a fantasy series about a were-coyote who is Native American. I’m sure it’s handled with all the deft grace and sensitivity she’s handled this short story.

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There’s lots of ways to divide people into groups. There’s people who love the country and those who love the city; there’s people who love poetry and those who don’t; there’s people who love George R R Martin and those who don’t; there’s people who understand binary and those who don’t; there’s people who think Carrot Top is funny and everyone else; and there’s people who buy and own books– lots of books!– and those who don’t.

My friends are pretty evenly split between book owners and book renters (library users). Both groups love books and love reading, but one group invests money, time, and physical space on acquiring and housing books and one group invests their money, time, and physical space on other things. One group has stacked bookshelves, stacks of books, piles of books, mounds of books, and one group doesn’t. One group has to schlepp tens of (heavy) boxes of (heavy) books up and down stairs when they move, and one group doesn’t.

I’m in the first group, and I’m kind of getting tired of it.

When Nesko and I had a kid, and that kid started becoming mobile, we had to move all of our books to much higher shelves. We got rid of all our tall free-standing bookcases so Niko wouldn’t pull them down on himself. Then, about a year ago, it looked very seriously like we would be moving very soon, and to much smaller quarters. I proceeded by acquiring large numbers of boxes and putting things into those boxes, preparing to move. I packed up 14 large boxes of books (as well as three really big boxes of board games and 3 huge boxes of kitchen stuff). Then all those things stayed boxed up for months and months and we didn’t miss most of it. I did miss some things. I wanted to play a few of the board games we had packed away, I missed my extra mixing bowls and glass pyrex measuring cups, for instance. As part of spring cleaning we opened up our boxed up kitchen things and got rid of most of them. We unpacked our games and weeded through them, stripping some down for parts (tokens, money, dice, etc) and setting a few aside to give away. Those we’re keeping are on shelves in two categories: 1) Keep 2) play and see if we enjoy them, if not get rid of them.

Meanwhile our books are still packed up and I haven’t NEEDED to get into any of those books and we’ve permanently acquired very few new books. I’ve checked out and read almost 70 new-to-me books from the library this year, and after reading them I’ve returned them. There’s a very small handful of those books that I would have liked to keep forever. And more and more I like an apartment that isn’t cluttered with STUFF, especially as we have an apartment that’s crammed full of toys and kid books and games.

When I packed up the books, I noted what books where in what boxes. I have an entire inventory. (I did the same for the games and kitchen stuff.) I’d been meaning to type that list up and I finished doing so the other day. Every book that was packed away for storage is now entered in a spreadsheet. It was emotional. I thought of all those books and how much I love books, and how hard it was to find some of those books, and how other books were gifts from people who know me really well and love me. I have a bunch of books on Celtic history that Nesko brought back from a layover in England, from when his trip to Montenegro was cut short because of the bombing. I have a bunch of books I spent a long period of time tracking down and spent serious money on purchasing and shipping. I have books I’ve read and re-read time and time again, and I have books I’ve read once or twice only. And I started thinking of winnowing down our book holdings.

And I had a mini panic attack.

Seriously, I felt anxiety! There were surges of emotions! I felt like I was betraying my books! Isn’t that weird? I have synesthesia and apparently part of that is sometimes people who are synesthetes anthropomorphize inanimate objects and ascribe emotions to that. Books are inanimate! They don’t care what happens to them! But I felt like I was abandoning them, like they wouldn’t be loved if I got rid of them.

I also panicked because OMG what if I NEEEEEEEEED THESE BOOKS down the line? OMG what if all libraries and the internet cease to exist and I no longer have access to this information? Panic panic panic panic. But that’s silly, too.

I went through and I highlighted about half the books, marking them to be gotten rid of. I calmed down a bit. I might go through and mark more to get rid of. Of the books I’m keeping, a bunch are books I think Niko will like to read when he’s in middle school which isn’t that far off any more. I don’t want to get rid of books just to re-purchase them or whatever.

I remember, as a kid, always having something to read at home. My dad’s a book collector, not in a serious OMG HUNTING DOWN FIRST EDITIONS kind of way (although I think he would be if he had more disposable income) but in a bibliophile way. I grew up with shelves and stacks and mounds of books: books in the living room and in the bedroom and in the kitchen and on the couch and in the bathroom and on top of the tv. There were so many books there was always something new. History books, poetry, literature, fiction, memoir, science. That feels so normal to me. It’s honestly weird to have, right now, a single shelf only for our owned books. I feel almost naked!

And, weirdly, I feel defensive. Like I can’t prove I read books. No, really, I read a lot! I’ve read hundreds of books! Don’t judge me by the scanty offerings on my shelf! I’ve read everything Roger Zelazny has published, you just can’t tell because his books aren’t on display! I’m a Tolkein fan, an Ellen Kushner fan, A Cherie Priest fan, a Lois McMaster Bujold fan! I have a first edition hard cover of Scott Lynch’s “Lies Of Locke Lamora”! I LIKED HIM BEFORE HE WAS COOL OK. I have most of the run of “Blade Of The Immortal,” I have the Johannes Cabal books published in the USA! I’m cool! I’m a legit nerd/geek! REALLY I AM. I’M SO COOL YOU GUYS. LOOK AT THIS SNAPSHOT OF HOW COOL I AM, HOW WORTHY, HOW GREAT AND QUIRKY MY TASTE IS. JUDGE ME. JUDGE MEEEEEEEEE.

We will be moving again at some point.

I’m tired of hauling books around.

I’m tired of not having enough space, not having enough shelves, not having enough flat surfaces.

I’m becoming one of THOSE people, a book renter instead of a book owner.

From now on, I’m only going to keep books that are really and honestly meaningful, books that I love, books that resonate, books that I return to again and again.

Eventually, I think, I’m going to get a Reader or Tablet and start buying electronic versions of books I enjoy. But that’s out of my price range at the moment, and I do resent the DRM included on most traditionally published books.

If you live in Chicago, let me know if you’d be interested in a big book swap party at my place. We can all bring the books we don’t want/need any more and trade for other books, and anything left over I’ll donate to our community center to sell at a book fair fundraiser (or use in their classroom).

Having made the decision to get rid of books, to literally cut my book collection in half, I’m already feeling lighter. It was a struggle to get to this place, but it feels good. I still experience moments of BUT WAIT–! freakout but they’re coming less and less. Letting go is hard, but it’s something I can do.

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Wednesday Reading

Wednesday, 3 April 2013 13:54
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (Default)
What did you just finish?
Straight: the Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank; There's Nothing To Do On Mars by Chris Gall (kid's picture book); Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks; Last Ape Standing by Chip Walter

What are you currently reading?
The Wood Wife, by Teri Windling, Are You My Mother, by Alison Bechdel (which I read once and put aside to mull over and re-read, it's much chewier and more intense than "Fun Home."),My mother she killed me, my father he ate me ed by Kate Bernheimer

What will you read next?
Stumbling On Happiness by Dan Gilbert; Days Of Blood And Starlight by Laini Taylor; Breaking The Magic Spell by Jack Zipes; London's Sinful Secret by Dan Cruikshank; The Complete Knifepoint Horror by "Soren Narnia" (won via goodreads giveaway).



You know, you can also follow my book reviews on goodreads. http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1376296-brigid-keely
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

One of Niko’s favorite books is “Babies” by Gyo Fujikawa. If you can find an old version of this in a used book store or thrift store, pick it up. It’s delightful. Sadly, current versions remove a few pages, which is appalling since it’s a very short book to begin with. Fujikawa was dedicated to portraying a wide variety of babies and children in her books, and her illustrations are delightful. After reading the book, we’ll talk about the different babies and kids. Are they happy, or sad? What are they doing? What are they thinking? Following the advice of anti-racism educators, we look at skin color and hair color and texture and talk about how some people are different in the same way we look at clothing and activities (this baby is wearing pants, but this baby isn’t. This baby is putting on socks, and this baby is wearing a funny hat. this baby has long straight yellow hair and light skin. This baby has orange hair. This baby is wearing a kimono. This baby is crying. This baby has curly hair and dark skin.). And sometimes I ask him if a baby is a boy or a girl.

Sometimes he gets confused.

And sometimes it’s really not clear if one of Fujikawa’s babies is male or female. It’s just a fat faced baby in a diaper!

He does better with older kids, who are wearing gendered clothing and hair styles.

This one has pants and short hair. It’s a boy. This one has long hair and a dress. It’s a girl.

But this one? Wrapped up in a towel and grinning? That’s a baby.

There’s boy, there’s girl, and there’s baby.

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book meme

Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:37
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It's international book week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence. Don't mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your post.

"Her dress rustled as a matter of course, but it was the sort of sound that was easily lost in the Quarter, beside the water most especially."

"Ganymede," by Cherie Priest.
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Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

For those of you who don’t know me very well, I have some Hoarding tendencies.

I put “hoarding” with a capital H because it’s not just that I like getting stuff and keeping it near me. I feel safer and more complete when I’m surrounded by crap. This is an issue, I know. It’s especially an issue because we don’t have a huge amount of space, and all this crap collects dust and takes up real estate both physical and mental. Over the past few years, I’ve been paring down on a lot of our crap, which is often a challenge, because Nesko and I are both collectors and are both also completionists.

We also have smart phones that we can read electronic versions of books on, and a hard drive that can hold a lot of electronic books.

So I’ve been purging lately. I currently have 5 cloth grocery sacks full of books that I’m taking to the community center to donate for their next book drive. I sorted through my unmentionables and tossed out a bag full of underpants and pyjamas and socks that are unpleasant. I’m going to rifle through our closet again and toss things. I’m ordering CD/DVD wallets into which all of our CDs, DVDs, and game discs and booklets will be inserted, and all our jewel cases are going OUT THE DOOR.

And then there’s the garbage. Do I really need a giant teetering stack of small cardboard boxes? No. A garbage fall full of plastic grocery sacks? No. Stacks of grocery receipts from ten years ago? No. Homework from when I was in high school? No. So that’s going out the door, too. I managed to harvest a big bag of paper recycling just from my desk top. There are only so many used envelopes I need for note taking, you know?

It’s hard, physically and emotionally, but it’s also liberating.

 

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I was looking for picture books about moose to put on hold at the library for Niko, when I came across The Moose With Loose Poops, a book that only one library branch had. I could not believe my eyes and snorted a little snort of laughter. Especially when I read this review on Amazon:

I accidentally bought this book (I was thinking of If You Give a Moose a Muffin) but I was entertained just the same. In fact, their plots are kind of similar what with the chain reactions and all.

Apparently, it’s part of a series of picture books discussing medical issues with kids (colds, sore throats, earaches… and gastroenteritis) written by a medical doctor. I can totally see the value of this book, of this series, in helping kids understand what’s going on with their bodies and not be afraid of something that is, frankly, frequently scary.

But dang, man.

Dang.

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Yonks ago, before I had a kid, before I was married, back when I lived near the always-foul-smelling Morse stop on the red line (seriously, every single time I walked past it some dude was urinating on the wall of the building like urine alone was keeping the station standing), I got sick.

I was low-key miserable. You know how it is. Tired, cranky, full body ache, scratchy throat, listless, vaguely nauseated, my upper lip a snot trough. Nesko went to the store to pick up canned chicken soup, crackers, ginger ale, drugs, and Martha Stewart Living magazine all of which are vital to my recovery process. He kept calling to check in and see if I wanted/needed anything else. I added coke, frozen pizza, and popsicles to my list. He called again. I started teasing him with stuff stores don’t carry. I said I needed an elephant.

He came home with my groceries, AND some flowers, AND a stuffed elephant. Because he is the best.

That elephant has had a special place in my life ever since.

Niko hasn’t really used a lovey until recently. Sure, he uses a pacifier when he’s sleeping, or feeling ill, or getting jabbed again and again with sharp needles at the doctor’s office because I delight in his suffering. But he hasn’t really had a comfort object.

And then, somehow, out of all the stuffed animals and blankets and sharp pointy trains he has, he selected the elephant as his special lovey. He flirted a bit with a soft blanket, and with a baby doll, and with a length of wooden train track, but he settled on the elephant. At nap time, he protests that he NEEDS his EYAYINT. WHERE MY EYAYINT? I NEEEEEEEED IT he bellows, then he finds it and drags it back to bed by its trunk, singing a song. He settles in, nuzzling it. He tips its head back, trunk pointing up, while making elephant noises. Sometimes he brings his baby doll along for a ride.

I bought a copy of “Good Dog, Carl” at the thrift store. It’s a slightly mis-bound board book and Niko, who loves dogs and babies, really enjoys it. I checked “Carl’s Masquerade” out of the library about a week ago, and it’s in heavy rotation right now… read before every nap and bedtime and sometimes in between as well. Niko reads it to us, and reads it to his baby and his elephant. And then he decided that his elephant was named Carl, and Carl looks after Baby, and Baby rides on Carl.

So he sits on the floor and prop his baby doll, Baby, up on Carl the Elephant’s back and trots them around. When he goes looking for his elephant, he reminds me that HE NAME CARL. And when he goes to sleep now, Carl and Baby snuggle in with him.

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Mirrored from Words, words, words, art..

One problem Nesko and I have been working on, a problem we share, is that we are both not only collectors, but completionists. Which means that if we aren’t careful, we end up with a house full of STUFF. And we’re emotionally invested in that stuff. Which means that right now I’m staring down a LOT of pulp scifi and considering selling or giving them away… Including a bunch of old Zelazny, some first eds. Not sure what I’m going to do, yet.

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Frances!

Thursday, 18 August 2011 11:15
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Like a lot of parents, we are trying to inflict our own positive child hood experiences on Niko. Which means, in Nesko’s case, Niko’s learning Communist-era Football (soccer, to those of us in the USA) fight songs, and Yugoslavian pop songs from the 70s, and eating spaghettios. And in my case, that means mostly wooden trains and a million weird kids’ books and lots of making up goofy songs. (We also dress him in nerdy clothing a lot. Because he can’t stop us. HAH! this shirt offers +5 to nakedness! He has +10 charisma! He is a level 3 human! ZIIIING)

Niko is really into Russel Hoban’s “Frances” books, some of which were illustrated by Lillian Hoban (they were married, they got divorced, they kept working together; the first book was illustrated by Garth Williams). We have “Bedtime for Frances” (aka GO TO BED NOW FRANCES), “Bread and Jam for Frances” (aka NYOM NYOM FRANCES) and “A Baby Sister For Frances” (aka FRANCES HAS A BABY!). How much does he enjoy these books? So much that sometimes he asks for them instead of Thomas And Friends stories. How much does he enjoy these books? So much that sometimes in his sleep he murmurs about wanting A Red Car Toy (Lightning McQueen from “Cars”), and sometimes he murmurs something about Frances.

The books are pretty dated in some ways. In “Bedtime,” Father Badger (who is the disciplinarian) threatens to spank Frances if she doesn’t go to sleep; there’s a pretty clear division of labor among the genders. And they’re dated in good ways as well. Frances catches snakes in a pillow case and does tomboy-ish things and has a male best friend (who often wears purple checked pants), two things that aren’t seen quite as often among girls in kids’ books today (at least the ones I’ve seen, anyway). They are clever, sweet stories, very solid, and sprinkled throughout with little songs just begging to be sung.

If you grew up reading them, take another look at them. If you’re looking for something for your kid, check them out. There’s I-Can-Read versions that are edited to be simpler, but the original texts have a richness the edited ones lack.

What are some of your favorite childhood books? What are you re-sharing with your kids? I’d love to know.

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Here are five of Nikola’s (current) favorite books. As a note, I’m using my amazon.com affiliate account, so if you click on a link and buy something I make an imperceptible amount of money.

  • I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry is the calm, gentle story of a bunny named Nicholas, who lives in a hollow tree. Niko loves the bunny, and loves the sweet story and pictures. When I feel like adding extra enrichment, we work on colors, numbers, animal names, and the difference between jonquils and daffodils.
  • THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD-THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL EDITION by “Watty Piper” is the retelling of a bit of Americana, a story that apparently originated in Church sermons and Sunday School lessons. “Watty Piper” was the name used by in-house writers for the original publisher. I don’t think Niko gives two figs for the book’s message, it’s got trains in it and that’s all he cares about.
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a timely story, as we have a total of about 26 inches of snow on the ground right now. Niko likes hearing about the little boy who gets bundled up and goes out into the snow.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (I Can Read Book 2) Although this is an abridged version and I want to get the original, unabridged version, Niko still loves this book. All the Frances books have really charming, awesome little songs in them and Niko has recently started swaying along to the beat as I sing them. This is one of his comfort books, when he isn’t feeling well and needs extra reading snuggles.
  • I Love You Stinky Face is an awesome story about a mother and (gender not specified in the text) child winding down for the day and getting ready for sleep. It’s a great story about parental love that isn’t sappy or codependent.

What are some of your favorite books to read to kids? What are some of your favorite books from your childhood?

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Nesko’s mom called him on Friday and told him to drop the baby off with her, which was AMAZING and AWESOME and means Nesko and I totally went on a DATE. Oh my GOSH can you believe it? We actually left the house together and went to do a fun thing. And then went grocery shopping after. A THRILL A MINUTE RIDE, YOU GUYS. When he called me to tell me he was on his way home and I needed to get myself and the baby ready, I was all “I don’t know, I have no clean pants! they are all in the wash!” I somehow managed to forget that… wait for it… I WAS WEARING CLEAN PANTS. I mean, they were actual trousers, not pyjama pants, and they had a working zip and everything.

We managed to get ready to go, drop off Niko, and squeak into the theater with just enough time to get popcorn. What magical movie did we see? Why TRUE GRIT of course! A movie I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time now.

The first movie, the 1969 version with John Wayne, is one of my favorite movies and my absolute favorite John Wayne movie. The book is excellent. I hadn’t seen the movie or read the book in a while, but I remembered good big chunks of both and I was very excited about the new version of the movie AND the reviews I’d read about it.

Bearing in mind that I was already primed to love this movie, oh my WORD, this is basically one of the most perfect movies I’ve seen in a long time. There were some weird additions to the movie, and some events were moved around, but in all it’s very faithful to both the events and tone of the original book. Did I talk along with some of the dialog (quietly)? You bet your ass I did. Jeff Bridges was great as Rooster Cogburn (and managed to play Rooster Cogburn and not John Wayne, a remarkable feat) and Hailee Steinfeld was exquisite as Mattie Ross.

Oh, Mattie Ross. Along with Tamora Pierce, one of my first introductions to feminism.

What’s that, you say? A movie based on a book written in 1968, a Western no less, is feminist? Let me lay this out for you, if you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness of the story.

Mattie Ross, 14 years old and female, is the oldest daughter of hard working, relatively affluent land holders. She is smart, well educated, and knows her mind– her mother can’t “do sums or spell the word cat,” and it’s possible that Mattie’s status as only (or only surviving) child for so long (there’s a considerable gap between her and her brother, Little Frank) is why she is so highly educated. Not that no women were ever educated at the time, but at the age of 14 she’s essentially her father’s business manager and book keeper, and handles legal matters with the family lawyer. In many ways, she’s been groomed as the heir to the family business, the “man” of the house when her father is away. When her father is murdered and robbed in Fort Smith by a tenant farmer, it’s Mattie (again at the age of 14, alone and female) who travels far from home to take care of his business and get justice/revenge. Adults in Fort Smith are quick to underestimate her due to her age and her gender, but she shows a quick wit and steady head for business. She’s calculating, cold when she needs to be. She’s stubborn and persistent and insists on getting her due. She earns the respect of both Rooster Cogburn, the Marshall she hires to go after Tom Chaney, the coward her shot her father, and LeBoef (pronounced “LeBeef”), the Texas Ranger who is also after him for shooting a senator.

The novel– and both movies– are told in flashback. They’re narrated 25 years after the events of the story by an older Mattie– one who elected not to marry, one who is wealthy and powerful and knows her own worth and was not interested in marriage or being reliant on a husband. She refuses offers to write newspaper articles about her experiences for low pay, and also refuses to give her story away for free to journalists looking to interview her (although she’s willing to throw scraps to aspiring young journos, since she knows how hard they work and how rough the news industry can be). She speaks the truth without sugar coating it, and demands respect. Although her younger brother teases her about being in love with Rooster Cogburn, Mattie’s complex relationship with the man who saved her life and helped her avenge her father is not one about romantic love.

Mattie Ross, in short, kicks all kinds of ass.

I’ve always felt that “True Grit” referred to Mattie, although she tells Rooster that she’s heard he has grit and is looking for that in the man she wants to hire. It’s Mattie who goes into the unknown; it’s Mattie who changes and is challenged and grows; it’s Mattie who uses a dead man’s arm bones to keep herself from falling down a hole and uses a dead man’s hand as a flail to keep snakes from biting her; it’s Mattie who steps outside of her very narrowly defined role to take on a man’s business of money and justice.

It’s Mattie Ross who is my hero.

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from brigidkeely.com/wordpress.

Have you seen this?

Thus, I am pleased to announce that the Carl Brandon Society is holding a prize drawing to support the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund. For those who don’t know, the Carl Brandon Society is an organization dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity in speculative fiction. So it’s fitting that the prizes available consist of three awesome eReaders. Entrants can win one of two Barnes & Noble Nooks, One of two Kobo Readers, and an Alex eReader from Spring Design. And to sweeten the pot even more, all of the eReaders will come pre-loaded with short stories, poems, and books by writers of color.

Tickets cost $1 each and you can buy as many as you want for any of the eReaders you’re interested in. Click here to buy tickets. The drawing began yesterday and will run through November 22, 2010.

I want to give a shout out to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Spring Design as they generously donated the devices for this drawing, and also to the authors who are donating stories, poems, books and essays to tempt you. We don’t have the full list of authors yet, but they include: N. K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Terence Taylor, Ted Chiang, Shweta Narayan, Chesya Burke, Moondancer Drake, Saladin Ahmed, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and more.

(emphasis mine)

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Mirrored from brigidkeely.com/wordpress.

I’m re-reading my Big Book of Jane Austen and wondering, yet again, why some people continue portraying her work as romantic.

I mean, sure, they involve matrimony and at the end of the story there’s a marriage and not a funeral, so technically they are romances and not tragedies, but still.

Most of the established marriages are pretty awful, formed of people who barely tolerate each other at best and despise each other at worst. New relationships are entered into with negotiation, almost as business partnerships, even when actual affection is involved. And when a potential spouse who has objected to a match based on social standing relents, it’s not because passion has swept him/her away. Rather, it’s because he/she found out something further about the potential spouse like their family isn’t as unrelentingly tediously awful as first thought and there are some Members Of Quality present. For instance, Elizabeth Bennet and her atrocious family (except for sweet, naive Jane) but wait, she has the civilized lawyer uncle and aunt.

A lot of modern readers (and, let’s face it, viewers of dramatic versions of the books) forget or never knew that a good marriage was an upper class woman’s job. If she failed at it, she (or the daughters she misaligned) could face poverty or abuse with little alternative save returning home to live with her parents. If you’ve ever read Vanity Fair you’ve seen what Amelia Sedley– a woman with a very high class education and wealthy background– is reduced to in order to survive. (spoiler: she has absolutely no marketable skills and mostly goes hungry, surviving on handouts from relatives)

Austen’s heroines are women with very little options trying to make the best future for themselves they can. Maybe, like Marianne, they narrowly escape being “ruined” (spoiler: “seduced” (possibly raped), impregnated, and abandoned therefore to be hidden away because of The Shame) by A Cad only to find a decent marriage to a man literally old enough to be their fathers; maybe, like Jane Bennet, they luck out and have a few small difficulties before snagging a congenial easily-pushed-around wealthy dude with bitchy, unpleasant sisters;maybe they’re rescued out of grinding poverty (and a very close knit and loving family) to live among people who treat them like unwanted and threatening time bombs waiting to go off, only to find a love alliance with a cousin after all (but have spent over a decade being treated like crap by the rest of the family). She writes with humor and there are comedic elements and, yes, the novels have a Happy End. But there’s a grim undertone of desperation under the social skewering and witty banter.

If these women fail at catching a good husband, they are fucked.

December 2015

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