May 2012


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I really needed to do this earlier. I was crazy busy in May. There were three house-sitting gigs (which netted me a lot of money but subtracted a lot of free time since I was constantly driving between them). There was some parties, a lot of tree estimate appointments, movies, and Shadowrun. I had a phone interview which I was super excited about and went really well and then in June I got rejected from for no good reason (at least she wouldn’t give me one). Then I was super depressed for a while. Ha, who am I kidding. I still am. I haven’t applied to any other jobs in forever. WHAT’S THE POINT?

Meh. Let’s talk about books.

Books Read: 22
Books Partially Read: 10
Books Re-read: 3
Books Bought: 23
Money Spent: $8
Books Borrowed: 15
Books Given: 5

Books on To-Be-Read Shelf: 60 or 70 something. Who knows? I didn’t write it down at the time and now it’s the middle of June and is all different.

Favorite Books This Month: Out on a Limb by Sue Limb, Fire, Graceling and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, I ♥ the 80’s by Megan Crane, A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare, Dead of Night (39 Clues) by Peter Lerangis.

Out on a Limb by Sue Limb is a collection of journal articles written by Limb for Good Housekeeping. She wrote a series of YA books that I loved, the first of which was Girl, 15, Charming but Insane. She’s British and witty and the articles are primarily about her life with her Dutch husband, daughter, gardening, running for office, meeting studio execs, dealing with a word processor (they’re written in the 80s), etc. I enjoyed it all mightily though some chapters (which are very short) more than others.

Favorite Quote from Out on a Limb: “Earrings were big then [60s]; I had a pair of snakes, a pair of parrots and a pair of pigs. There was hardly a member of the animal kingdom that had not dangled from my lobes. At times I resembled nothing so much as a recently decorated abattoir.”

I liked it because it reminded me Eydie, Kris’s mom, who has a collection of animal earrings that is unmatched in my experience.

Fire, Graceling and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore are a series of books set in a fantasy world where some people are born and their eyes “settle” into being two different colors and it indicates they have a Grace. A power in which they are supernaturally gifted. I love these books. They are fabulously written, have great stories, and are never dull. Chronologically Fire comes first, then Graceling, then Bitterblue. But Graceling was published first (then Fire then Bitterblue). So you can read them either way. Fire is set in a distant kingdom where there aren’t Graces but there are Monsters–animals and humans that are bizarrely colored (as a hunting mechanism to draw you in) combined with telepathy to make you want to be eaten (or messed with if the Monster is a human–they generally don’t want to eat you, they just want to torture you for fun). There is a running thread of connection between each novel. I thought Graceling was my favorite for the longest time but having just re-read Fire…I might love it more now. Bitterblue just came out last month so I read the first two again before reading it. It is not my favorite (much like Fire wasn’t when it first came out). I’ll need to read it again I think to better love it but it was still good. I hope she writes more set in this world. Or just more. I really like her writing even if the stories do have very comparable themes/characters (esp Fire and Graceling which are eerily identical in a lot of things).

I ♥ the 80’s by Megan Crane is about time travel! Okay, it’s basically the Jennifer Gardiner movie “13 Going on 30” (her name is also Jenna), except that she goes from her 30s back to the time when she WAS 12 but is still in her 30s. And all this in order to fulfill her greatest wish of hanging out with a pop star who died when she was 12. Yeah. I wasn’t sure, honestly, where the story was going to go. I mean, I was pretty sure (I know stories) but there were some baffling interactions between Jenna and the popstar and then it was a romance novel and yeah. It was kind of….not well plotted out in advance but it was still kind of fun to be along for the ride. (Also I like time travel and celebrity/non-celebrity romances).

A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare is the second in the Spindle Cove series and I may have liked it more than the first. The guy in this one is far more appealing (because he’s funny) and the girl was delightfully a geologist (it’s fun when they have a serious hobby). So I liked the two main characters a lot though the story was patently ridiculous at almost every turn. Sometimes you have to suspend your disbelief when reading historical romances and, luckily,  I am willing to do that, but if you’re not, I wouldn’t recommend this series.

Dead of Night (39 Clues) by Peter Lerangis is the 3rd in the second series of 39 Clues books. We’re in to the Cahills vs. Vespers now instead of Cahills vs. Cahills. I really like these books. They are each written by a different, famous kid’s author. They are well-plotted with great leads and secondary characters. There’s a whole tie-in with trading cards with the books. All in all they’re just a great way to get younger audiences involved in reading, I think. I have read all of them and will continue to do so (especially since my mom is always willing to get them from the Scholastic catalog for me and then I read them and give them back for her 4th grade classroom library. Win-win.)

Least Favorite Books This Month: How The Marquess Was Won by Julie Armstrong, Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers, Out of Eden by Beth Ciotta, Viscount Breckinridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens, Be My Baby Tonight and How to Tame a Lady by Kasey Michaels, An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James, Tangled Up in You and Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson, Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, The Fireman Who Loved Me by Jennifer Bernard, The List by Siobhan Vivian, Baby, I’m Yours by Susan Anderson, Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris, Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines, Black Hole Sun by David Gill, and Dragonswood by Janey Lee Carey.

Normally I just cherry-pick out the worst books for you, this month I decided to list all of the bad ones. This is a combination of romance and YA novels. Some I didn’t finish but a shocking number of them I actually read the whole thing and hated myself for it. Some of them were truly terrible. Like I wanted to beat the main characters up. Some were just horribly terribly written. Atrocious levels of bad. Some were just mediocre. Avoid them all is my advice.


Monkey Hair

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Categories: General

This weekend I went to get my hair all cut off and I was describing to Melinda (my stylist for over 20 years, 25 maybe?) how much I hate my thick hair when it’s long and turns in to a rat’s nest.

Melinda: Have you ever seen an actual rat’s nest?
Me: I have! With a dead rat in the middle of it. It was just like my hair.
Melinda: Really?
Me: No, not really at all. But it’s all thick and gets tangled up in the back and is awful.
Melinda: Does it really?
Me: Well no one else notices it but I do and I hate it. Also, why are you defending my hair so much?
Melinda: It is really thick. Monkey thick.
Me: Right. There’s just so much of it and it drives me crazy and…
Melinda: (giggling)
Me: Wait. Did you just say ‘monkey thick’?
Melinda: YES!
Me: (giggling) What does that even mean?
Melinda: Monkey’s aren’t thick.
Me: Thick as thieves?
Melinda: Thieving bananas?
Me: This makes NO sense.
Melinda: I don’t know why I said it!
Me: I do say ‘crap monkeys’ a lot. But that makes sort of sense. Monkeys do throw feces at you.
Melinda: Thick as Monkey Crap!
Me: I wouldn’t go that far, woman. My hair isn’t crap.
Melinda: No, it’s just monkey thick.

This post, I am suddenly realizing, should have a picture. Possibly a picture of me with either a monkey, a dead rat, or feces on my head. You get none of those things. Not even a cute one of my new haircut.


April 2012

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Much like last year in April of 2011, I read 20 books and didn’t finish an additional 10. That’s a little weirdly coincidental. It also feels again to me like April was really long. Probably because I spent so much of it waiting for appointments with new doctors and dreading them. That’s over now. And was 50% worth the stress and bother. Other than that, I don’t feel like I did much in April. I didn’t do Script Frenzy this year, about which I am quite disappointed in myself. I did garden a lot. A LOT. I’m going to spend most of this month house-sitting. Meh. Let’s get to books. I got a lot this month because I went to the huge SF Public Library book sale at Fort Mason with my mom and she bought me 31 books. Like half of them aren’t for reading, they’re for craft projects, and so far the ones I’ve read have disappointed me unfortunately. Still, I have a lot of books that I am excited about to read still now in May.

Books Read: 20
Books Partially Read: 10
Books Re-read: 3
Books Bought: 0
Money Spent: $0
Books Borrowed: 16
Books Given: 37
Money made (from selling books): $60 in Book ‘Em sales.
Books on To-Be-Read Shelf: 52

Favorite Books This Month: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Partials by Dan Wells, Serenity: Better Days and Other Stories by Joss Whedon, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson, and The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway.

That is kind of a lot of dystopic novels. Cinder, Prized, Under the Never Sky, and Partials–all dystopias. Cinder and Prized were definitely the best. Cinder is Sailor Moon/Cinderella/Robot! So good.

Prized is the sequel to Birthmarked which was also good but Prized is even better. It’s kind of more an alterna/fantasy world maybe but it’s still dystopic. The main character is a midwife! And she’s run away from this horrible city-state run by a male-authoritarian regime (that’s all in the first book). She stumbles into this sort of old-west, female-authoritarian-run society (in the second) and lives there with them learning science and delivering babies and taking a stand against The Woman.

Under the Never Sky is about a world with two distinct societies–one lives in bio-domes and the other lives out under the Never Sky (basically destroyed atmosphere from bombing from what I could tell). The people outside have “powers” and the people in the bio-domes are kind of evil. The story is about a girl from the bio-dome who gets kicked out because of politics and gets rescued by a cute guy. They go on adventures and learn stuff about their world and each other and themselves. You know, that kind of thing. It’s the first in a series and I liked it.

Partials is about how our civilization made humanoid …androids (?) to fight in our wars and then they rose up against us and a disease that killed a huge percentage of the human population was released. Everyone still alive retreated to Long Island (Yeah.) The story follows a girl who decides to go capture a “Partial” (one of the androids) for study to see if she can find a cure for the disease. There is a lot of science in this book. It was also interesting for me because it’s set about 11 years after the end of the world and my post-apocalypse zombie novel is set 12 years after. It was thought-provoking to read something which had the same problems I came up against with perishable food and gasoline going bad. So on.

Out of these four, I definitely recommend Cinder the most. I might be prejudiced with my huge love of Sailor Moon, but I really feel it was a great story on its own too. I’m really looking forward to the three sequels (rolls eyes. Yeah. One a year.) Delightfully the last in the Birthmarked trilogy comes out in October. I feel confident I can hold out that long.

I wrote about Let’s Pretend already here.

The Other Guy’s Bride
is the sequel to As You Desire (which I LOVED). This one is good but not AS good and parts of it are totally copied from As You Desire. But in a complementary, nostalgic, doing it for the fans kind of way. Which is nice and all….but I really wanted something equally amazing in its own way. Still, it’s a romance novel set in Egypt. I liked it.

Lastly, the Serenity one was new to me. I’m not sure how I managed to not read it before but I really didn’t recognize two of the included stories. The last one was familiar and the most boring because Wash was dead in it. Man, I miss Serenity.

Least Favorite Books: Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by Claire LaZebnik, Exorsistah by Claudia Mair Burney, Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld, and While I Live by John Marsden.

I wrote about While I Live here already and it’s associated penis fixation. I don’t have much else to say about the others except Blue Noon which is is the final in the Midnighters trilogy and I only dislike it because the first one is so good and then the second one is only okay but the third one, it’s like WHAT HAPPENED? It ends so unfinished and so much about it is terrible. Meh. I have to remember this so I never reread them and am disappointed a third time.


Farmer Gibney Strikes Again

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So last year I started gardening for the first time and planted a lot of things, 2 of which were in the Bible (this is a random side point). You can read all about it here

In addition to the stuff I still have from last year–a raspberry, a blackberry, sage….hm, that might be it. Well and the things I got after I wrote that blog–a dwarf peach tree, a Japanese lantern/Tiger’s eye thing, another raspberry, a trumpet flower thing, a different basil, and lavender, jasmine, honeysuckle…mmm, ground cover flowering succulent thing. It’s hard to remember everything. Where was I? Right so in addition to all that this year I built a raised bed (shoddily out of old and semi-rotting wood that used to be a retaining wall and some old fence posts) and planted more things. These include:

5 kinds of tomatoes, 6 eggplants (2 kinds), 3 kind of chile peppers (I blame my brother) and some chives

containter pots

30 some snap peas, 14 beans, 2 corn, 3 sunflowers

raised bed

a kalamata olive tree that I forgot to take a picture of but it’s totally growing olives right now. As is last summer’s peach tree–growing peaches though, not olives. Obviously.


One of the old dwarf oranges is covered in incredible smelling flowers (and bees)

orange flower and bee

and I bought some pretty colorful cacti because I couldn’t resist the flamboyance.


I need to go get that Bible plant book from the library again so I can check on all my new things. I also need to stop planting things. I find it very difficult to stop. Kris and Christine went to an edible perennials class this weekend and told me about tree collards and now I want some. I also want a neem tree, (Don’t ask. Though I bet it’s in the Bible plants book), and a bunch of other fruit trees. And more roses. I’m getting some estimates for how much it’ll cost to remove the three offensive pine trees in the backyard (I find them quite offensive) so maybe someday I could have a neem tree.

Anyway, if you want to see more photos of my plants, they’re here.


Jenny Lawson and Me.

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A couple Fridays ago Jenny Lawson, author of The Bloggess, was in my town rather than hers. I was pro this occurrence since my desire to avoid Texas is greater than my desire to see the Bloggess in person. Lucky for me than that she was on a book tour promoting her sort-of-true memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

I made Kris go with me because I like having friends along to things. And it was good that I did because without her, an awesome thing never would have happened.

Jenny read a chapter from her book, admitted to having thrown up backstage, elicited much laughter and cooing, said “y’all” in her adorable accent several times, and looked overly warm. The bookstore’s reading space was small and we fans crammed in like just so many more human shaped books in rows exuding our accompanying odors and heats.

At the end there was a signing portion and it went by row. Kris and I were seated in the last row so we had some time to kill. In discussing what would happen when it was our turn, we completely foreshadowed the future.

Jenny: Hi?
Me: Mmph.
Jenny: Is that my calendar?!
Me: My book hasn’t come in the mail yet.
Jenny: That’s too bad.
Me: Yeah, so I thought maybe you could sign this instead?
Jenny: I’d love to! What name?
Me: …
Jenny: ?
Me: Garreth?
Jenny: …
Me: (?!?!)
Jenny: Okaaay.
Me: Thank you. Mpmh.
Jenny: Bye.

signed bloggess calendar

This story is only mostly true. I forgot the calendar at home and didn’t have anything for her to sign. I forged all that at home after Kris and I ran away from the sweltering bookstore. But it is true that I am terrified enough of talking to strangers that I probably would actually think my name is Garreth when questioned. It’s silly though considering how much social anxiety Jenny Lawson has that I would still be terrified. It’s also weird, I think, to meet a (in)famous blogger in person. You already kind of feel like you know her. You sort of think you’re best friends even though you don’t actually really know her at all. That’s one of the things I love most about her writing (blog and book), how warm and inclusive it feels. You really can think it’s a friend telling you a story. Even if that story is about hobos eating her pet duck (one of my favorite bits from the book. Typically I would be so horrified by animal cruelty but she made it funny. Terrible genius.)

On the drive home, Kris decided some guy in another car hated her driving as she kept getting confused by lanes. “Arch-nemesis!” she exclaimed. I was still stuck in lovely musings about how Jenny met her husband in a bookstore and he gave a corny pick-up line.

Me: This would be a funny story if I started dating him. How we met, speeding cars, arch-nemesy!
Kris: You’re going to date my ARCH-NEMESIS? Do you understand the concept of best friendship?
Me: No. And then we’d get married and you could give a toast and it would be so romantic.
Kris: I would not attend the wedding of my arch-nemesis, you fool.
Me: OMG! He’s already married! There’s a whore in the front seat.
Kris: I told you so. (nods knowingly)

And that’s how Kris and I made married arch-nemeses. The End.


March 2012


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What happened in March? It was a bit ago, of course, so I’m having trouble remembering. There was some birthdays of my friends. I watched A LOT of The Walking Dead with Jason. I mean, we watched all of it. Notice how I didn’t say I liked it. I re-read The Hunger Games trilogy and saw the movie with Kris, Christine, and Tami. There were a lot of Monday night IM sessions with Marina over The Voice.

Books Read: 21
Books Partially Read: 4
Books Re-read: 5
Books Bought: 0
Money Spent: $0
Books Borrowed: 16
Books Given: 0
Money made (from selling books): $125 in Book ‘Em sales.
Books on To-Be-Read Shelf: 40

Favorite Books This Month: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson, Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson, The Dead of Night by John Marsden, A Killing Frost by John Marsden, The Night is for Hunting by John Marsden, The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, and Enthralled ed. by Melissa Marr and Kelly Armstrong–but really just the story by Sarah Rees Brennan, “Let’s Get This Undead Show on the Road”.

I wrote or talked about so many of these books in the last month that I’m kind of out of words now. Especially about The Hunger Games trilogy, all the Marsden ones and the Shirley Jackson memoirs. There was Facebook convos, emails, in-person chats, book reports… I’m trying to decide if there’s a way to distill all that conversation into an easily digestible form or some copy and pasting or just to ignore it in favor of talking about the other books. Of which there’s only two and I’ve already talked about one of them because it was a re-read (Wither by Lauren Destefano). All right, I’m just going to write about the Sarah Rees Brennan story and then copy and paste a little about The Hunger Games in case anyone cares to read it. You can read some about the Marsden’s here as I just wrote about it. And I wrote about the first Jackson book here. The second one is the continuation of her fictional autobiography up thru a lot of little league playing by her oldest son. These books are amazing to read and think about how she NEVER, not once, mentions she is a writer in them. Or that she’s taking a lot of drugs and is an alcoholic and her husband is a philanderer. I really want to read an actual biography about her now.

Ok! So Enthralled is a collection of short stories by a bunch of authors who were on a book tour together–primarily all YA authors some of whom I love, some I hate, some I’ve never read. It was a free ARC a long time ago from Kim’s mom that I finally got around to reading. Because they came up with the idea while on book tour, the theme of the stories was supposed to be about road tripping or journeys. My favorite story in there (and admittedly, I did not read all of them) is by Sarah Rees Brennan, the author of the Demon trilogy that I raved about a couple months ago when I read the last one. Out of the several I read, Brennan’s was at least recognizably about a journey. There was one by this author who wrote a book about djinn which I was fascinated by a while ago who wrote a story entirely set at college where the only “journey” was, I guess, about falling in love? But it was only about the IDEA of falling in love not actually doing it within the confines of the page length. Another one was about a zombie apocalypse and the two characters TALKED about a road trip to Virginia and had maps and guide books but they were just hiding out in a cabin in the mountains the whole time. I don’t know. The whole journey theme to me was a little weak in some of these. But Brennan’s was about a band on tour and they were also having a personal growth journey to accepting their vampire bandmate and him accepting his vampire-ness/them as his friends. #1 It had some great and well-defined characters even though it was really short. #2 It was funny and good. #3 It’s possible I just have a crush on Brennan. I discovered her blog tonight while putzing around trying to write this blog and got sucked in for like 2 hours. I briefly tried to plan a road trip to Nova Scotia because she’s going to be there on another book tour with these same people in September. ANYway. It was nice to have new Brennan to read since her next actual book doesn’t come out for many many more months.

Least Favorite Books of the Month: Bumble-ardy by Maurice Sendak. New Sendak! But such a disappointment. A Million Suns by Beth Revis. I tried, I really did. But I just couldn’t read this. Lame follow-up to Across the Universe which was also kind of lame. The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour. MEH.

Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall. Honestly surprising. A zombie novel about aliens who turn humans into zombies with big eyeball growths. Set in a hotel in Texas that’s having a Trekkie convention with a token Princess Leia impersonator. As someone who is not a trekkie or trekker, I still really enjoyed this. It was fast paced and kept moving. I was never bored. It wasn’t very long. Well done, dudes I’ve never heard of.

Okay, and now some Hunger Games. I’m sure you will all skip this and that’s okay. At least now I have a concrete and gathered together portfolio of all my thoughts on these books. Or at least some of them. I actually have a lot more thoughts. Terrifying, isn’t it? Sigh.

First, I got into an argument with Jade on FaceBook about reading as a spectator and lauding violence like a Capitolian.

But, and this is only if I’m understanding you correctly, you think that people are drawn to Katniss because of her lying persona? What she does to survive and make the Panem audience like her is lie about her feelings for Peeta, right? This is certainly not what I like about her. I like her because she’s strong and weak and selfish all at the same time. Because she’s trying to fight back against evil even though she’s terrified. Maybe you just mean the character trait we admire is her determination to survive no matter what it takes? I admit I do admire this about her but most of the time I find her emotional journey to be so poor actually that she is not my favorite character. Her wavering between Peeta and Gale is a low point throughout the trilogy. Peeta’s my favorite character and I kind of wish the story was told from his point of view (this is also primarily why I’m excited about the movie because I like the actor playing Peeta a lot. And I’m kind of ridiculously excited about how they’ll do the costumes and I can’t wait to watch the visually represented inception of Katniss inciting a rebellion by touching her fingers to her mouth and holding them towards the camera. I am very much not excited about watching people kill each other for sport though I think it’s a fabulous commentary on society and wonder how they will handle it movie-style. And I am not looking forward to the muttations at all.)

I don’t think most of the people who love them find the Games to be pleasurable. I don’t find them pleasurable. I find them horrifying, dirty and grotesque like you say. I cry when Rue dies. But we’re not supposed to like them. We’re supposed to despise them while discovering the dichotomy of civilization and barbarism for ourselves. I think the main draw of the books is not the Games, in fact, it’s the pleasure of watching characters rebel, fight back, and successfully triumph over evil/oppression/post-civilized barbarity. It’s very David vs. Goliath. If people wanted to be morbidly excited by reality TV death, they could just read or watch Battle Royale (which has a very similar plot device–teenage death arena–and is way less well-rounded in other areas). I guess my point with this is that while reading the book is pleasurable it’s not because I have a fascination with watching people kill each other. It’s because I like the theme of good vs. evil with good winning.

I don’t think you’re reading it wrongly, I just think you’re fixating on the books’ popularity and, by extension, the in-book popularity of the Game. I think you’re underestimating readers’ ability to see through her set-up to the basic idea that murder voyeurism is bad and sticking to your moral principles, no matter what the cost, is good. Have you just read a lot of articles that only praise the killing sequences or heard a lot of people rave only about that aspect? I would think that most people would focus on what loyalty means, what the cost of loyalty can be, where betrayal comes in, how people triumph over seemingly unassailable odds, societal mores and downfalls, what the cost of surviving does to the psyche, etc.

It seems like much of your dislike of them comes from preconceived notions about why they are popular and you’re bringing that into your reading of them. This has long bugged me about people who hate Harry Potter or Twilight who’ve never read them and refuse to do so because they’re too popular. Then when/if they do try to read them they can’t get past the hatred and never give the books a chance. I feel like at least you tried to give them a chance. I mean, sure you utterly failed, but whatever.

…But it’s possible you really should try to read the third one which doesn’t have a Game in it and is solely concerned with war and thus might hit different notes with you than the morbid spectator one. It’s really not pleasurable. I’ve only read it once and I hated it. I’m hoping to hate it slightly less this time around. And on that rousing recommendation and incredibly long diatribe, good night!

Then I continued that argument via email after Jade wrote a blog about it.:

I did indeed see that you wrote about it on your blog, yes. Sorry I’ve had a busy weekend and didn’t reply earlier. I also finished reading book 3 on …Friday? I think it was Friday, and have been thinking of them all weekend. I also started reading the sequel to this book I read 2 weeks ago–the first one was “Tomorrow, When The War Began” and the sequel is “The Dead of Night”. They’re by an Australian writer named John Marsden (stay with me I’m getting to why these tie in) and you should never, ever read them. They’re basically the Aussie version of “Red Dawn” if you ever saw that? A bunch of teenagers who guerilla fight back against an invading army (from an imaginary Asian country) in their country who have locked up their families at the fairgrounds in town. 1) They are kind of terribly written and 2) they are as psyche damaging as the Hunger Games. Maybe a little less so because they aren’t as powerfully written so the impact isn’t as extreme.

Anyway, reading these and thinking about the Hunger Games and your reaction to them, a response I came up with to your question is about how there is maybe a middle ground between changing an opinion and reinforcing an opinion. Those results are very black/white and I can see why it’s hard to think of a good example.

One of the things I like about books that move me is that they can provide a carefully constructed world in which your imagination can move through it and be confronted with a reality which is foreign to your real life. You talk about books that hold the same opinions as us already or reinforce held beliefs about things such as children with weapons and victims/persecutors and prostitution/slavery. And while it’s true that I DO have beliefs about these things, I do not have FIRST HAND experience with them. Books allow me for a couple hours to have virtual first hand experience.

One of the things that bugs me about your reaction is that you think we, as readers, must be identified as the Capitol viewers because that’s what we are like reading and enjoying them. But I feel like we must identify as Katniss because of how the books are written in the first person. If we are Katniss than we are experiencing what she is and everything bad that happens, happens to us. Everything that damages her, damages us. In the end when we put the book down we get to be free, but she doesn’t. And I think that’s one of the ways these are so powerful and have a hold on people and makes us think about them for a week or month or year after finishing. Because we’re shaken up by them but relatively okay. And yet, we experienced it all with her and we know she’s still living it so we’re trapped in it a little bit with her still too. None of this changes my previously held beliefs about war, children fighting and killing, etc., they are reinforced, yes, but more subtly and importantly, I am changed by feeling it virtually at first hand. By having her life affect mine for the course of time the book is held in my hands, in front of my face, and for however long after I am still trapped in there with her. I hope I never have actual first hand experience of these things but really good books always manage to change me a little. The virtual bleeding into my reality.

Wait, I just read what you wrote again and we are kind of arguing the same thing still. We both think they have powerful messages and we’re both affected by them. Sooooo you can ignore everything I said above pretty much. Though I still think I’m right about people more often identifying with Katniss than being complicit in Capitol audience blood-lust.

I went and reread it because my cousin just posted this link on FB and I was fascinated because I thought it might provide concrete evidence of human mind change (SCIENCE!) from reading fiction but it doesn’t exactly provide the effect you were talking about.

Still, it was pretty interesting. And it did, at any rate, reinforce my virtual bleeding into reality argument. Just based on brain chemistry! Science! (Sorry, science is so foreign to my English lit soul that I’m endlessly fascinated by it.)

I think my answer to your question now is that the people who like and utilize the kind of violence the books are arguing against are either going to find or twist reasons in them (or other anti-violence lit) that are pro-violence (not hard really in HG at least, I don’t think) or they’re not going to be reading them at all. But I still want to believe that sometimes some people are reached and changed by a book. And maybe someday another science article will come out to prove that for reals.

Also I need you to explain the teacher thing to me–the teacher who said they’ll be learning about dystopian civilizations as a side effect. Why isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t they be learning about that in a way which might actually have an impact? Possibly I should read the article you’re linking to and this would make more sense.

Jade argues back about how maybe if we’re empathizing only with Katniss it inures us to the actions of others and therefore we don’t critically apply to ourselves the actions of, say, being a Capitolian. Which was quite a good point that I feel I kind of missed addressing actually. This has been Jade’s point all along kind of, I think. That in order for the books to really shine and be a critical commentary on society we need at some point to identify with the Capitol and internalize that criticism, remembering to apply it to all future actions of ourselves and our world leaders. Jade also debates whether or not books criticizing society manage to effect anyone whose world view doesn’t already agree with them. She also makes some excellent points about democratic societies and how Katniss is an anarchist, but kind of a failed one who slinks away at the end rather than force real change. But I, of course, still have more to say about empathy and critical commentary:

Considering that Katniss does sometimes view things like a Capitol audience and often stands up for Capitol citizens, I think we are forced within the book to consider things from their perspective just because Katniss is. Like when she has to watch previous games or the replay of her game. She doesn’t do so great with her own but she analyzes and …not appreciates, but KIND OF appreciates, some of the victors’ approaches to killing in the others. And when she rescues her “crew” from 13’s dungeons and defends them to Gale, we’re forced to see some things from their side about how their lives could have led them to enjoying the Games and how not ALL Capitol citizens are “evil”. And we are sometimes forced within Katniss’ POV to act like callous uncaring people. I mean she often kills people without hesitation. She then analyzes it a little internally and we analyze it with her but in this sense she’s behaving horrifically violent all the same. Like in 2 after holding hands with all the victor’s she still immediately kills some as soon as the Games start. And in 3 when they’re sneaking around in the Capitol she shoots an unarmed woman eating a chicken leg in the heart and moves on. So as readers we have to consider and justify and internally monologue with ourselves and with her and think about these things still. She spends a lot of time emphasizing with the Capitol and the rebels and thinking about both sides and so we do too definitely. Although…other than liking Boggs she never really empathizes with the rebels. She pretty much dislikes them the whole time and makes us hate them too. That is definitely a plot thing by Collins I think to lead up to killing Coin in cold blood and make us approve it maybe. But I agree with you that it doesn’t fully work. This is a problem with the writing of the 3rd book though. She tries to wrap up too many things in too small a space. There should have been a lot more post-killing Coin internal monologue so we could understand it better.

Oh and no no no, I think while reading and emphasizing with Katniss we’re also critiquing her and ourselves. You just did it there. She is selfish and a murderer and manipulative. While reading her do things like kill people I’m with her but I’m also questioning whether I would do that whatever it was. When she manipulates Peeta to get food or whatever, I’m like, yes, I would totally do that. I am highly manipulative to get what I want. But I wouldn’t have done everything the way she did. And just because I emphasize with her doesn’t mean I LIKE her. I actually don’t like her very much as I’ve said before. The only character I really like is Peeta. And Prim, but I never thought she would make it so I never expended much energy in liking her. Even though she was Katniss’s favorite person. In that respect my empathy with her only understood her love of Prim. It didn’t agree with it. This is something that happens a lot in books I read. I emphasize with all sorts of things but I’m still critical enough to have my own opinions too. And I definitely extend my book-based empathy and critically apply it to myself and others within my reality.

Oh, I read the teacher thing as students might be distracted by story WHILE reading but then in the classroom during discussion they would be led to a greater understanding. This is what happens in teaching, right? What teachers are supposed to be doing–leading students to read and understand more deeply? I could be wrong. I’m not a teacher. But I thought a lot of teaching was about, well, TEACHING. I’m also basing a lot of this on what I did at the high school library. When English classes were reading certain books and coming in to do research for papers on them, we would pull lots of books on historical events, society/culture, philosophy, whatever related to the book for them. I don’t know what this particular teacher was going to do, but I know the kinds of books I would pull if teaching HG in a class to make sure students applied critical theory and rhetoric to it.

And then I had to explain my dislike of the third book–Mockingjay–to Eydie.

I dislike how Collins confined herself to the 3 sections, 9 chapters a section set-up that totally limited how she could wrap everything up at the end. It was a horribly rushed ending without enough explanation or follow-thru with the characters. Like, 1, throughout the series we get interminable internal rambling from Katniss about why she does things and what she feels about things. In the end she kills Coin and her actual reason is never fully expressed. We assume it’s for Prim but it’s never outright said. 2, the last time she was separated from Peeta she spent pages worrying about him in the Capitol and wondering what he was doing and what happened to him. At the end of the book she just retreats to District 12 and doesn’t even spare him a thought until he shows up again. It’s like, really? Are you so self-involved that you didn’t even care that one of your team was left behind again? Also, Haymitch, who had been working with the rebels to change things all along and been a part of the revolution, etc., also just retreats to District 12 when the leader is killed? No. He probably would have stayed and continued to address reforms as a member of the leading party.

It’s also vaguely annoying how there’s no real message to take away from this other than that war is awful and PTSD is a real thing. Katniss at the end was not in favor of tyanny or democracy. She was basically and anarchist assassin. But then she doesn’t do anything about that and just runs away. There could have been a better moral at the end where we see that anarchy is the only political stance to take or the bigger benefits of real democracy if she hadn’t acted alone but instead it’s just sort of a fractured ending (much like her psyche) without anything real to take away from the story.

The third book is just too rushed and choppy. She spends way too much time on stuff that doesn’t further the story (a lot of the time spent with the rebels, some of the District stuff, a lot of the attack on the Capitol where they’re hiding in cellars or before they start maneuvers)–this is, of course, assuming that the story is Katniss/Peeta. A part of the story that gets totally lost in the third book. But even if the story is Katniss/Capitol there’s still a lot of extraneous stuff that gets written about instead of all the more interesting questions I have above about democracy/anarchy and Katniss’s final decision to kill Coin instead of Snow. She just doesn’t balance it very well in the last book. She tried to do too much and was totally inhibited by length.

A lot of people die kind of unnecessarily. I see how Prim’s death is totally relevant to the story and needed and I always expected her to die so I don’t really mind that. But Finnick? I think he could have lived. And what happens to Johanna at the end? We never see her again and I came to care about her. Or Annie (I don’t actually care about her but I feel bad since Finnick dies. Where does she go? What happens to her? See this is just another instance of where she let a bunch of plot strings fall apart.)

And finally, I hate how she never really loves Peeta because I love him so much.

Actually I probably have other things I dislike about the third book but it’s not as fresh in my mind right now since I read it several weeks ago. And all this is not to say that I HATE the last book. I think it’s good still. Just not as great as it could have been. I was very disappointed in it.

She wrote back about her views on Prim’s death/Coin’s murder and I had thoughts on that too. You know what, I HAVE A LOT OF THOUGHTS ABOUT THE HUNGER GAMES.

My theory is that Coin killed Prim and blamed it on Snow to force Katniss to agree to more Hunger Games. Coin wanted Katniss to be irrational and super angry with the Capitol so that she would be on her side for more revenge-mongering and the new autocratic regime. Coin must have known Katniss would never consent to more Hunger Games unless something so horrible happened to her personally. It backfired when Katniss found out the truth obviously. But in any case, Prim needed to die for the story. If Coin had suggested more Hunger Games without killing Prim, the majority of the survivors would have voted no and she would have been forced to kill all the survivors (which I think is what was going to happen in that room they were all in if they voted against her, but again WHO KNOWS because Collins doesn’t tell us everything about how there’s snipers or a lethal gas waiting to be released and a cover story about them all being killed by Capitol agents). But the story couldn’t end with Katniss, Haymitch and Peeta, Annie, Johanna, Beete, etc all dying (I guess. I mean I don’t see why it couldn’t. That ending might actually have been more powerful. It couldn’t be any more lackluster than the ending we get anyway). But that’s why I think the story had to kill Prim instead. That’s what I THINK from a story-telling perspective anyway.


Curiouser and curiouser

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I’ve been forgetting to use my bookmarks lately but if I had been using one last night I would have had a doozy of a quote to jot down. In fact, I’ll probably still do it because nothing is stopping me and this quote will take up most of the bookmark anyway. Who cares about what happened in the rest of the book? Honestly, not me really.

Background: I’ve been reading this series by Australian author John Marsden called The Tomorrow Series. They’re about a group of teenagers who are camping in the bush and come home to their small town to discover their country has been invaded and all their family and neighbors are being held captive. They start a guerrilla movement and eventually hook up with New Zealand military and some kids even younger than them. So yes, basically, Red Dawn, Oz style. It’s YA but very serious, violent, soul-sucking YA with a lot of PTSD, even more really stupid love triangle internal monologing, and a lot of death. And some religion. There were 7 books. Some were amazing, some were only okay. Then after they finished and ended…sort of happily, he decided to write a second series titled The Ellie Chronicles which further follows the main protagonist. In order to really capture the terror and vengeance of the first series, some terrible shit goes down in the first book. Ellie’s parents, who she’s finally reunited with after seven books, get gunned down on their own property by opposing rebels. This is upsetting to say the least but then most of the rest of the book is about an evil lawyer who’s trying to sell her family farm to a hotel developer. YEAH. But in the midst of that there’s some historical espionage learning, a couple missions, a rape, buying a bunch of cows, AND this incredibly inappropriate quote.

Ellie is having a little mental breakdown (as she often does) and thinking about her mom and dad:

“…her big brown nipples that she didn’t like but I loved, his long, soft penis and its curious head, her pubic hair so dark and mysterious, his pubic hair so thick and curly…”
While I Live by John Marsden, p. 267

. . .

What self-respecting teenager goes around mentally cataloging her parents’ genitalia? There has been no indication prior to this that the family was nudists or really at all comfortable with their own bodies let alone viewing each others’. There hasn’t been any weird family sex rituals to account for this. Nothing. I seriously read the passage like four times trying to figure out if I was making it up (it was quite late). Then this morning I tried some Google searches to see what other people had to say about this bizarre turn of events when Ellie Linton suddenly got real about her dad’s penis and her mom’s nipples. Incredibly I found virtually nothing. There’s this one comment on a blog (final comment) about how weird it is in response to that whole scrotum thing in The Power of Lucky but THAT WAS IT. I am so confused about this entire thing. Confused and baffled and kind of disgusted. I mean I have now read eight of these stupid books. I am committed. There are only two left and I’m curious what will happen next (now that she’s bested the stupid lawyer and still doesn’t know who the Scarlet Pimple is–though I am pretty sure it’s Bronte.) But I also kind of don’t want to let myself in for any more of this terrible writing and weird left-field family nudity fest. And, I just discovered, the library doesn’t even have the final book in the series. Really, library? You are letting me down.

Seriously, why is the penis CURIOUS?

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