Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ender's Game

I have less than 4,000 words to go for this month's CampNaNo novel. This makes me excited. Here's the primitive cover that I designed for it:

Does it make you want to read it? I hope so. It won't be nearly finished in the next 4,000 words, so don't hold your breath. But hopefully someday you'll get to read it.

For a smoothish transition, we'll now turn from books that I'm writing to books that I'm reading. Or rather, have read recently.

Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Ishiguro

I'm pretty sure I spelled his name right. I'm sorry if I didn't. This was a book that I was told I 'had to read.'

It was. I loved it.
Set in a dystopian-ish society, it is the story of Kathy, a carer who is caring for her old school friends. As she does, they remember their lives as children at Hailsham, a private boarding school somewhere in England.
Through their memories the reader discovers more about them, and how very different they are from the rest of the society, and eventually, what their purpose in that society will be.

Of course, I can't tell you any of it, because it would ruin the whole book. Written beautifully, and paced beautifully, I've read that this is the weakest of Ishiguro's novels. If it is, I'm dying to read the 'good ones.' The book is like learning a secret about a friend, from little pieces gathered from other people. I thought it was wonderful, couldn't put it down, and highly recommend it. It would be a great book club book; there's a lot that can be discussed.

Next, Ender's Game- Orson Scott Card

I've had people telling me that I should read this for about ten years. I feel like if I had read it ten years ago, I would have thought that it was a lot better. It wasn't terrible, and I didn't hate it, but my overall reaction, and Ben's as well, was: meh.

It's interesting, though we both guessed the twist. The characters are good, mostly round. The story is engaging, and the world that Card creates is similar enough to be thought provoking, and different enough that it's science fiction at the same time.

What bugged me (hah, no pun intended. Buggers...see what I did there? :p ) the most, was the end. Ben and I agreed that it was weak. Card tried too hard to leave it wide open for a sequel and that was annoying. It reminded me a little bit of J.K Rowling's infamous epilogue. Just a bit.

If you haven't read it stop for a second:

I like that the buggers had been watching Ender through the computers the way that he'd been watching them, and that they built the End of the World. That was interesting. Him becoming the Speaker for the Dead I thought didn't ring true to the character that he had become.

Okay, come back people who didn't want spoilers.

Weak ending. Not the best book ever. I recommend it to little kids. They'll think it's awesome that kids are running the world.

Finally, I've finished a scarf that I've been working on for months. I love it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

HP Reflections

Do you ever wonder if maybe you're going the wrong way with your life?

I think everyone does, sometimes. It's happened to me a couple of times in the last several weeks. First when Ben took me to the city to see How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for my birthday. I was sitting in the theater, watching them all dance around with big smiles and bright colors and thought to myself "Man, I REALLY want to be down there with them. On that stage."

Then it happened again when we saw HP 7 Part 2 on Monday. I was sitting in the movie theater, watching all those incredible veteran actors thinking "I'd give anything to work with those people."

It made me a little, (okay, a lot) depressed afterward to think that maybe I was pursuing the wrong dream. Maybe I should have gone to Post, maybe I should have pursued acting. People told me "have a fall-back career." Well, an English degree isn't much more stable than a Theater degree.

I suppose it could just be that I'm unhappy with my dog-walking job and the lack of better options and that the depression I feel is just my coming down from the adrenaline rush that live theater and great acting gives me. Or...I could be at the completely wrong place in my life.

As far as HP goes though, it was fantastic! I honestly hated the 7th book- I thought it was horrendously written, and that the ending was total cop-out because she was too lazy to plot it so the kids could figure things out for themselves, instead of bringing Dumbledore back from the dead to explain things. Someone did a really good job adapting it to screen. It was engaging.

Of course, the acting was incredible. That's what started this whole post. Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman...amazing, talented people. They bring so much to these movies. Honestly, I don't think they'd be nearly as watchable if they had a different supporting cast because, let's face it, Harry is the most flat character in the whole series. Does anybody really care what happens to him?

Especially in this movie, they brought so much. Even with a fraction of the screen time as the younger actors, they brought exponentially more depth and emotion to the movie. Ralph Fiennes gives a master class on acting with his performance. Think about it: that's not his face. He has ONLY his eyes to work with. Now, go back and watch what he did with them.

Even Michael Gambon, who I'd always thought was a terrible Dumbledore, did a nice job in this movie. The scene in Limbo at King's Cross was the most like Dumbledore he'd ever been.

And Maggie Smith is one of my favorite actors ever, so I'll just leave it at that.

I'd give damn near anything to work with such wonderfully talented people.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Luna Moth

Remember the shawl that looks like a Luna Moth? I finished it!

This picture is a little dark, but with flash it went right through the holes in the shawl, and all you could see was the shirt I was wearing underneath.

I'm really pleased with the way this pattern came out. And now... because I'm feeling generous...


At the next pattern I'm going to work on. It's Doris Chan's Broomstick Lace Shell (which is a tank top, but since it has holes, probably more like a vest since you need something underneath) in KnitPicks Cotton/Linen blend. Harbor blue.

Here's the gauge swatch:

Stay cool, y'all. In every sense of the word.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Books, Books, Books!

I've been stockpiling reviews. Okay, not really, I just haven't gotten around to blogging about them. CampNaNo will do that to you.

Book Numero Uno

My French Whore- Gene Wilder

Honestly? A disappointment. Cute story, but that's about it. His memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, was soooo good that I had really high expectations for this book, and the writing just didn't reach them. It was simple, unelegant, not that funny, just...not Gene Wilder. Not the way that I know he can write.

That said, it wasn't a horrible book. It was a simple, easy to read novel. Great for those hot days when your brain feels like it can't commit to anything too strenuous. If you want a look at Gene Wilder's actual writing skills though, pick up Kiss Me Like a Stranger.

Book Numero Dos

A Year in Provence- Peter Mayle

I have a soft spot for travel memoir. Especially when the travelust is particularly strong. This memoir from the late 80s, and the first in a trilogy that I will undoubtedly read because this is, after all, the year of the trilogy, is about the first year in Peter and his wife's life after they buy a house in Provence and move away from their life in England.

Expect to encounter old houses, strange neighbors, the token contractor/architect that you find in all books like this, and lots and LOTS of food. Food is what the French live for, and I guarantee reading this book will make you hungry. If you haven't had the pleasure of french food, get yourself across the pond at some point in your life. This from a person who doesn't even like food. It's amazingly rich though, so if you have a sensitive stomach...just be aware.

Highly recommend the book, especially if you are like me, and long to be wherever you're not.

Book Numero Tres

V for Vendetta- Alan Moore

The first graphic novel that I was exposed to was Alan Moore's Watchmen and I was pleasantly surprised that a comic book could have such a good story, in addition to meaningful pictures.

Again, Alan Moore's writing is solid. The story is a good one, about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust in which England becomes a fascist state, disposing of people of color and homosexuals the way the Jews were exterminated in World War II. Only V, a survivor of the concentration camps has the ability to engineer an overthrow of the government and create anarchy.

As I said, the story is good. Engaging, thought provoking, Alan Moore quality. The pictures were not as good as the ones in Watchmen. Evey, the orphan girl and heir to V's empire was so inconsistently drawn that I occasionally had a hard time recognizing her. The pictures were also colored dark, which I know was intentional because it was meant to convey the tone of this dreary fascist England, but sometimes they were so dark I had a hard time figuring out exactly what I was looking at.

Still recommended, because again, the story is good. So are the characters. In fact, so is the movie. But obviously, read the book first.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Simplification of Jay Gatsby

What do Jay Gatsby and the American Education system have in common? Well, they're both living in the past, for one thing.

The real topic is not so much what they have in common, as what education is doing to Gatsby. Consider this article:

Someone decided that there should be a simplified version of The Great Gatsby, for intermediate readers. Gatsby is very simple to begin with. Not in content, but certainly in vocabulary. There are roughly 50,000 words, short by novel standards, and as the writer of the article points out, the most complicated word you're going to run across is "orgastic," the definition of which can be guessed at with decent results.

To change the wording of Gatsby eliminates every reason to use it in a classroom. The article gives the example of the very last sentences of the book. They're famous for a reason. If you haven't already read them, and don't want it to be spoiled, skip down past the italics.

The original ending reads like this:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes--a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an ├Žsthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The "intermediate reader" ending is this:

Gatsby had believed in his dream. He had followed it and nearly made it come true.

Everybody has a dream. And, like Gatsby, we must all follow our dream wherever it takes us.

Some unpleasant people became part of Gatsby's dream. But he cannot be blamed for that. Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn't he?

Excuse me??

THE REASON Gatsby is taught is for Fitzgerald's absolutely gorgeous prose. It's not taught in elementary schools or middle schools because they're not ready for it. They won't appreciate it.
Granted, most high school students won't, either, but it's worth a try.

Changing the words to "simplify" it, renders it useless as a teaching tool.

Not only that, but the second reason it's taught is for the discussion about whether or not Gatsby WAS a success. To end with a question mark is not only the most irritating thing in the world, but answering the biggest question posed in the novel doesn't make anyone who reads it think beyond that answer.
Was Gatsby a "success?" Does he deserve the respect and idolization that Nick bestows on him?

Read it, and you tell me.
Of course, you'd need what Fitzgerald wrote, and not this woman's interpretation, for that.
Here's a thought: let's teach kids to READ, instead of handing them simplified versions.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I love those aha! moments when the plot falls into place and is unexpectedly more profound than anticipated.

I had one today, in the shower, because water really does help me think. I tend to get my best ideas at 10.30 at night, or in the shower, or while doing the dishes. Now the plot for this month's Camp NaNo novel has been worked out, and it's rather deep.

I'd still like to teach a class on Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome, because I stand by the fact that 99% of the time, things like profundity and symbolism just HAPPEN in a book, not because the author meticulously plotted it that way. I think we generally read WAAAY too much into stuff.

But I suppose that's okay, because I couldn't be an English (or CompLit) professor if we didn't. I'm leaning very, very heavily toward the PhD in CompLit, some kind of CompLit...I don't have the slightest idea where to begin looking for a direction to go in search of a dissertation topic.

I do know what direction my novel is going however. So I think I will leave the pondering of the rest of my life for another day, or at least a couple of hours, while I bang out my word quota for today.

Out of curiosity, what sort of classes could you see me teaching at a college level?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Washcloth #2- Shows Improvement

I didn't block this because...it's a washcloth. It will get blocked every time it's used.

Also! The new joint blog project did indeed launch today. Check us out, and click the follow button HERE.