Thursday, December 31, 2009
I'm looking forward to 2010 and hope it brings the best for all of you. "Baby-Sitters Club" fans definitely have something to look forward to! (Though I know a sequel with the girls all grown-up would do wonderfully, too. Don't give up on that idea yet, Ms. Martin!)
I also found this discussion of L. Frank Baum's influences on and intentions for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz fascinating. I think I will have to add it to my growing list of 2010 to-reads.
Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
To get my fill on holiday Americana before I leave, I've been enjoying the Christmas-movie marathon on Lifetime that's been running for weeks now. One of the best (and by that I mean cheesiest) so far was the one featuring Joanna Garcia, Luke Perry, and a Christmas wedding--a lethal combination!
So obviously, I love a good romantic comedy, and can generally look past their plot holes and overly simplistic (and overly gendered) characters. However, there's one holiday rom-com that so many women love, and I just can't understand why. I know this is going to be controversial, but it's . . . "Love Actually."
That movie is not romantic at all, at least not for women. It's been a while since I've seen it (and I've seen it only once, because I hated it so much), so forgive me if I'm getting the details a bit wrong, but here's what happens at the end to the "regular" women:
- Karen's husband leaves her for a younger woman.
- Sarah has to give up the opportunity to be with the hot foreign guy to be caretaker to her handicapped brother. (Which is love, sure, but do women always have to sacrifice? Can't they get both romantic and family love?)
- And, yes, Aurelia the maid gets to marry Colin Firth (Jamie, the fancy-pants novelist), but she and her husband don't even speak the same language, and she leaves her home country, once again, to be with him.
As for the guys:
- Hugh Grant, the prime minister, gets his assistant (who is beautiful and so not anywhere near fat, despite what the movie purports).
- Bill Nighy, the old fogie, runs of with some hot young thing.
- Jamie, as we know, marries the hot young Portuguese maid even though they can't even communicate. (Notice any pattern with the power differentials here?)
- And that one perverted guy goes to Wisconsin, where three hot young things very unrealistically submit to his every fantasy.
- Sure, there's the one boy who's in love with Juliet and doesn't get her, but good, because he shouldn't break up a happy young marriage between his best friend and his wife.
Perhaps this movie just showed on one hand what happens realistically to women and on the other what men would like to happen, but for this reason I just can't understand why it's such a holiday favorite with us females. I would like to rename it "Love, Crappily."
On that note, I wish you all actual love this holiday season, and only truly feel-good movies.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I can remember lugging my huge backpack full of heavy textbooks home from school every night, so I definitely see the advantage on that end. And of course environmentally this makes much more sense.
But I still can't imagine flipping through my e-reader to find the page I remembered X on, like I did (and still do) with physical books. Maybe kids today find this totally natural, though?
It's true that it's quite easy to do a "Find" search with a computer document, so maybe this has replaced for them the visual memory of us old-fashioned types. (Does anyone else have my frustratingly incomplete visual memory, one that can call up what the page looks like, but not exactly what was written on it?)
Saturday, December 5, 2009
A few days later, Sherman Alexie made it clear to Stephen Colbert that he's very much in the traditionalist camp when it comes to book dissemination:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Ha! But honestly, I had a really nice reunion with my family, almost completely drama free.
To kick off December, I thought I'd share the etymology of the word "cookie," one of my favorite words all year round, but especially appropriate at this time of year. Here's what The Improper Bostonian says:
"From the Dutch word for little cakes, 'koekje,' cookies started as test batter to gauge an oven's temperature, but evolved into pats of butter and dough that represented their baker's ingenuity, pastry skills and, during the holidays, affection for the lucky recipient."
Wishing you a cookie-filled holiday season,
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Though I definitely thought the assumption that a book being "orphaned" might be reason for its poor sales was a big one (in my experience, publishers and editors make every effort for the entire list to succeed, no matter who acquired a book and where he or she might be now, so definitely take heed of Liz Scheier's closing words), the question of how to overcome a weak freshman try is an interesting one.
(Note that I would have worded the introduction to my second quotation differently, so that it was clear that a publisher might request the psuedonym, not the genre change.)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Similarly, can we please finally retire the word "co-ed"? It comes from back in the day when it was a big deal for all-male schools to let women in. And even then, technically all the students were "co-eds" since both sexes attended a co-educational school. I'm so sick of the word being used as a synonym for female students, especially when people want them to sound all sexy and scandalous.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I love their mission statement. Here's an excerpt from it:
"Books can be both a mirror and a window to other worlds for readers. Tu Publishing hopes that by publishing books that feature multicultural characters and settings and books with worlds inspired by all the many non-Western cultures in the world, we might shine a mirror on you and open a window to many."
How great that Tu is adding more color to the world of young people's literature.
Friday, October 30, 2009
"No," I said, "People think I'm too old."
"You should," she insisted. "No one will know!"
I encourage all of you to take her advice and really enjoy the one night a year when adults can become kids again . . . or anything they want to be.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Does anyone else know if other languages have a marriage-status-neutral title for women, just as men have "Mr."? I know that the progressive-for-some-things-but-quite-paternalistic-for-others French definitely don't.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
- I found this discussion of new business models for journalism fascinating and critical.
- And then there was this interview with veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, who I want to be just like when I grow up. Heck, I wish I were like her now.
I love how she always tells it like it is. My favorite line from today? "The American people are not well-served when people are deliberately manufacturing news and telling lies."
Yes. Let's leave the fiction to the novels, shall we?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
To quote the NPR write-up, "DiCamillo says she tries not to underestimate her young audience." (And to that I add, book snobs and/or ignorant know-it-alls should not underestimate children's books.)
"'I think that children, being human beings, are as preoccupied with those big things as we are as adults, and I do think it does them a huge disservice to assume that they are living in a world different from the one that we live in,' she says."
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I am about to tell a slightly embarrassing story. Here goes:
In my tenth-grade honors English class, we had maybe two boys. Because of this, every time we read a play and the teacher (who I loved) asked for volunteers to act out roles, it was these same two that always got the majority of the lines, because most (if not all) of the plays had male lead characters.
So when it came time for us to read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I had had enough. I raised my hand to volunteer to read Caesar. My very cool teacher didn't even blink, and in fact commented that some very talented actresses had played Caesar on the stage. Now I would be added to the list (kind of)! I was so proud.
We started the reading, and I relished my part. I was as dramatic as was possible while still sitting in a high-school desk-chair (you know what I'm talking about). Finally, we were nearing the pivotal point for my character and for the play: Caesar's murder. I anxiously awaited it, but as the famous last line drew closer, I struggled internally—Should I pronounce "Bruté" the way I knew it was meant to be pronounced, or should I avoid being made fun of for being a goody-goody polyglot and just ignore the accent like Americans do on most words?
I chose the latter: “Et tu, Brute?”
Well, it was as if the murderous betrayal was taking place right there in the classroom. My teacher stopped the reading, and made a big show of spelling out Bruté really big on the board, circling the accent over the “e.”
"This is one of the most famous lines in all of English literature!" she said.
I was so embarrassed, and tried to defend myself, but to no avail.
A related thing happened a few months later when I was downtown with friends. We’d just gone to see a Tom Stoppard play that I found so unbearable (we thought we were really cultured, but even my ego couldn’t stop me from complaining about the show to my friends) that I was already in a bad mood, and were walking back to our car when I started reading the signs on the hip new drinking-and-dining complex they’d recently built in the Theater District.
“Sake Lounge looks really cool,” I said, pronouncing the first word like you would in “For Pete’s sake.”
“Sake!” My friends started cracking up. “It’s saké, duh!” (Yes, we were all nerds. They probably snorted superiorly, too.)
Again, so embarrassed, but mostly annoyed that my friends expected me to know this. After all, I was a good girl who did not have an exhaustive knowledge of international alchoholic beverages.
“But it doesn’t have an accent on it,” I said.
“It’s Japanese—hello!” one of my friends said.
“Didn’t you say ‘Et tu, Brute?’ in English class, too?” my BFF guffawed. So much for best friends standing by you.
All this to say that, know matter how much of a wordly, voracious reader you are, you never know how a word is really pronounced until you hear it said out loud.
Friday, October 2, 2009
But I must admit that my recent acquisition of cable (and, when we were pre-digital transition, of a TV whose rabbit ears would pick up a signal at all), has got me seeing the appeal of some of these. Don't get me wrong, I'm not into the autopsy ones--where the guest star is always a beautiful young woman, whose brutal death they fetishize (and of course the poor actor gets no lines, but lots of deathly makeup)--but I do like the "Law & Order" non-courtroom spin-offs a lot. There's something to be said about just being able to turn on the TV and for an hour be told a full story, without having to really know any background aside from what is presented in that episode. (And apparently this is why they're really popular and profitable for the networks.)
The point of all this is that I came across another one of these when I was flipping channels the other night, and it had a little extra something that I thought writer- and editor-types would enjoy. It's "Castle," a series about a tough female homicide detective (I know, is there any other kind?) and the annoying, know-it-all mystery writer (Castle) who gets to follow her around (because of his friendship to the mayor) in order to improve his novels. From what I could tell, Castle is constantly talking about the grammatical errors in murderers' notes, contesting the probability of a murder having taken place in the way Detective Beckett supposes because it wouldn't work well as a book plot, etc. The nerd in me giggles and appreciates his attempt at literary justice.
I'm tempted to watch it again next week, but am trying to resist, because the episode's preview showed that it's totally about the murder of a beautiful, young model. . . . So, it's really not that different from the others, but at least they know the importance of proper punctuation when saying that a suspect "Eats, Shoots & Leaves." Badum-bum.
(Thanks, folks, I'll be here all night!)
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I adore babies dancing, period, but you can tell baby Ava has got real talent when you compare her to the original video (which won't allow me to embed it).
Woah, oh, oh,
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
She is certainly an author to look up to for inspiration, no? Talk about fairytales coming true . . .
P.S. And I'll be honest, it made me tear up a bit, amidst my giggles.
Monday, September 21, 2009
- "I mean, when you think about language and you think about consciousness, it's just incredible to think that we can make any sounds that can reach over across to each other at all. Because I mean, I think we're— I think the beauty of being human is that we're incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it's like inside another person. And it's amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you're looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that's the mystery of poetry, you know, is poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it's emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth."
(This is something my mom always told me—that no matter what, we can never fully know any person except ourselves—and I've forever found it fascinating and sad at the same time. There is hope in art, though, which I think is what helps us get as close as possible to knowing "what it's like inside another person.")
-"I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. And I think that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination: that landscape wasn't just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time."
-"Music is what language would love to be if it could."
(And the best writing can be described as "musical" or "lyrical," no? This sounds like healthy a challenge for those of us using language as our instrument!)
- "[I]n the book I wrote on beauty, I was trying to say that one of the huge confusions in our times is to mistake glamour for beauty. . . . And we do live in a culture which is very addicted to the image, and I think that there is always an uncanny symmetry between the way you are inward with yourself and the way you are outward. And I feel that there is an evacuation of interiority going on in our times. And that we need to draw back inside ourselves and that we'll find immense resources there. . . . That's why I find the aesthetic things like poetry, fiction, good film, theater, drama, dance, and music actually awaken that inside you, you know? And remind you that there is a huge interiority within you. . . . I think that is the magnificence of beauty, is that even in landscapes of control, corrugated categories that you can be swept off your feet by just beauty. . . . I love Pascal's phrase, you know, that you should always 'keep something beautiful in your mind.' And I have often — like in times when it's been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness."
Sunday, September 20, 2009
For me, last week sadly marked the first time in many months that I had to wear a jacket, as well as shoes with socks--but I'm fighting hard not to break my rule of No Boots, Tights, or Wool Coats Before October. I actually do like fall (the cooler weather reminds me of childhood summers in Belgium, and Christmastime in Houston : P), but I just wish that winter--and Daylight Savings--didn't have to follow it. And for the record, I found myself spontaneously coming up with many creative ideas in SoCal, though maybe my relaxed, vacation state of mind (pun unintended, yet appropriate) was also a big reason for it.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
2) SkyMall is--hands down--the most entertaining part of any flight.
3) Best quote of my whole trip: "You're the lady!" (Said by an airport employee upon hearing that I had no checked baggage to pick up before going on to the customs agent.)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
It was interesting to be in a situation where I could follow conversation and be reminded of this world I used to inhabit almost effortlessly, and yet not be able to express myself very easily at all, let alone be understood. But I think it's a good position to put oneself in every once in a while, especially in contrast to the smugness I sometimes let myself fall into when I'm at the French meet-ups and feel like a star.
Maybe you writers should try something similar--try out a different POV, explore a different world, attempt to inhabit the mind of a character who at first seems so foreign to you. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
So, with this optimism in mind, I'm going to go pack for the Baltics, where I know not a word of the languages spoken--and maybe that will make my experience even richer. You never know.
Happy (interesting, thought-provoking, challenging) travels!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Hmm, and some people have said I was bit too harsh on the bored copywriter who penned the Eurostar sign-off I referenced yesterday. Fair enough, but I still say personality and whimsy should be kept to products and services that have whimsical prices, too.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In terms of it being a "teachable [and post-able] moment," it says a lot about the easy stereotypes writers can fall into, as well as the importance of making all your characters three-dimensional and well-rounded (Hey, Colbert, stop snickering--no pun intended!).
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Word - Arch Enemies|
Speaking of the representation of women in fiction, even by women, check out this great criticism of films like The Ugly Truth and The Proposal. (Stephanie, I thought you especially would be interested in this.)
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
This. Is. Writing. I'm even more regretful now that I missed Vanessa Redgrave's one-woman show of it.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
So when it comes to guests looking at a host's bookshelves, the judgment is probably one hundred times greater. After all, these are the books that a person can, ostensibly, hide from the prying eyes of strangers, and books that they like enough to have bought and/or keep. So, take a look at your bookshelf--what does it say about you?
I know, it's not fair. Analayzing my bookshelves before my last move, I noted all the bubblegum-pink paperback freebies that I had accumulated in my years working in kids'/YA publishing, and they didn't necessarily reflect my entire range of reading interests. Luckily, I'm a bit less of a hoarder than most of my fellow bibilophiles. I actually love sending books out into the universe--selling them to a cool secondhand store, giving them to friends, leaving them in my apartment building's lobby for my neighbors to find.
So I managed to pare down my collection to only books that had major sentimental value for me, great books that I like to refer to over and over, and books that I've worked on. I'm quite proud of my current streamlined (for now) book collection, and would not be embarrassed by any guest poring over it. In fact, my shelves are in my office-slash-guestroom, and I love the idea of a houseguest looking through my tomes to find something interesting to read before falling asleep, and thereby discovering a new favorite.
All this to say that I know my current catalog quite well, so I was intrigued and a bit creeped out when I spotted a stowaway on my shelf this afternoon. It's a yellowed paperback of The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, and I've never seen it before in my life--nor, I should perhaps be ashamed to admit (since the quotations on the book indicate that it's quite famous and important), had I ever heard of it before. (I'm giving myself a pass though, as it was published in 1949.) After making my jokester husband swear that he hadn't placed it there and that he knew nothing about it either, I'm now trying to figure out how it got there--a ghost, or a sweet-but-sneaky houseguest? It still has its pricetag from the Brattle Book Shop, so it hails from around these parts, but that's all I can figure out.
Whatever its provenance, though, I may just have to read it. Maybe the answer to the mystery will found be inside its covers. . . .
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Here's my entry above . . . and a request for you to vote for me on something. The contest ends Tuesday, August 11, and you can vote (by rating me five stars) once every twenty-four hours through then. Thanks for your support!
Friday, August 7, 2009
At the mall last weekend, a friendly, preppily-dressed middle-aged woman and I exchanged pleasantries while we were both looking at the mall directory. When we crossed paths again at Anthropologie, the petite blonde remarked, "We must be looking for the same things!"
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Has anyone else had a similar experience?
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
1) "Why My Protags Aren't White," by Justine Larbalestier
2) "Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the Stereotypes in Kids' Books," by Mitali Perkins
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Appropriately, I happened to be wearing the great T-shirt my former colleague Michelle gave me, which features a little girl reading in a big armchair, below tree branches and a cuckoo clock. And I walked home with a canvas bag full of new worlds to discover.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Born in desert.
Crossed the ocean.
Settled in swamp.
Jumped on bed.
Picked on sisters.
Sang in bathtub.
Swam in pool.
Read in cars.
Shined in school.
Dreamed of island.
Really shows how less can be so much more when it comes to writing, doesn't it? I'd love to read others' life poems.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
"I like it," protested the younger boy. "It's like watching television in my head."
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
However, book lovers who also love movies can still enjoy the latter by just pretending that they are two separate entities, letting go of their high expectations and all the details of the book and just enjoying the entertainment on the screen. I can usually do this, unless the filmmakers just ruin a book. In these cases, I just ask that they change the title of the movie so that everyone can be happy. How hard is that?
Case in point: "Confessions of a Shopaholic," the movie. Now, I love me some Shopaholic books. Even though it gets slightly frustrating that the sequels have Becky regressing back to the same person she was before her big epiphany and auction at the end of the first book, I am glad there are sequels because they are too funny. And even though Becky as a childlike, shopping-obsessed character romantically involved with a slightly condescending man is kind of chick-lit-formula territory, I think Sophie Kinsella does it in a quality, hilarious way--and her many imitators fall way flat. So I knew the movie wouldn't live up to Becky's adventures in my head.
But how many ways can you differ from the books in the movie? The main problem is that Becky in the movie is not English, nor does she live in London. This practically undermines the whole story, because what makes Kinsella's storytelling so great is imagining Becky saying things like "shop assistant" in a British accent. The strange thing is that the writers kept typically English phrases like that in the script, when an American would never ever say "shop assistant." I would have even settled for an American actress playing Becky in London (like Renee Zellwegger did Bridget).
And, anyway, isn't Isla Fisher actually British? (As a fellow redhead, I like her lots, even though I'm freaked out about how anyone can be married to Sasha Baron Cohen, and also I'm pretty sure Becky wasn't a redhead in the books, much to my chagrin.) But, no, she's an American Becky, living with her American roommate, Suze (played by the awesome Krystin Ritter), who calls her "Bex" (which only those creative-with-the-nicknames Brits would ever make up). And Tarquin (another way-not-American name), Suze's boyfriend, is not also Suze's cousin--which was so British and funny in the books--and not an awkward freak. Sigh.
And I'm not even at all an Anglophile, I promise.
Listen, I understand sometimes you have to change things logistically for them to work in film, but is there a reason for this to be a copycat of "The Devil Wears Prada" ? (Though I do always get a thrill seeing my old stomping grounds on Sixth Avenue in movies--and Becky and Luke (thankfully, at least he's British) are even clearly in front of my old office at one point.) Also, why oh why, did they completely reverse the very important point that Becky's parents are also kooky spendthrifts like her, and that's why she has this bad behavior? Perhaps most aggregiously, why is Joan Cusack playing Becky's mother when the actors are only fourteen years apart??? Shame on you, Hollywood.
So, in my head this movie is called "Shoppers Anonymous" (loved Wendie Malick as the taskmaster group leader), and it was very enjoyable. And so are the Shopaholic books, even though they only inspired the movie and weren't at all betrayed by it. You know, just like "Clueless" is to Emma.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
And what an amazing teacher, right? I admire music teachers so much, for their passion, dedication, and their smarts; I loved being involved in choir and musical theater, but found music theory to be my toughest subject (well, aside from P.E.).
P.S. And don't stop voting for Vicki. You can vote once a day!
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The first is about Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, and his family. Now I'll be honest, I still haven't seen the Broadway show (though I've entered the lottery for reduced-price tickets several times) and the book was over my head/too much fantasy for me to finish. But now I admire Mr. Maguire even more. I love how Maguire and his husband are co-parents, splitting the caring of their family equally, which is something many "conventional" couples could learn from. It annoys me to no end when dads who are just being good dads are called "Mr. Mom" or praised for "helping" their wives or "babysitting," when they are just being the parents that all fathers should be. Or when commercials and TV shows perpetuate the myth that men are somehow inadequate at housework and child care. Let's get with 2009, people.
The second is about New York Times editor Dana Canedy's book, A Journal for Jordan, which tells the story of the amazing diary her husband left for their son before returning to his deployment in Iraq, where he died. Among all its other moving messages, I was struck by how powerful and life-changing writing can be, and how it can be the legacy one leaves behind.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The evening also reminded me of all the foreign words that we butcher in English. Now, I come from Texas, where Spanish place-names are commonplace and yet people can't be bothered to add the last syllable when saying "Rio Grande"--either out of ignorance, pride, or both--and where they pronounce the town named "Palacios" as "Pal-ay-shus." So I should be used to all this by now. But it still really bugs me when people pronounce "bouquet" as "bow-kay." I mean, sure, there's a level of pretentiousness when someone goes too far out of their way to pronounce a foreign word accurately, but at least getting the vowels correct is all I ask for.
When I moved to New York, I noticed that the words people mangled there were mostly Italian--this in a place with a huge percentage of Italians. So "pasta" became "pass-ta" and "Mario" was "Mare-ee-o." The other day I was watching "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" (I'm not proud of this, but it's true), and I heard perhaps the worst mispronunciation ever: Teresa pronounces her last name of "Giudice" as "Jew-dice." Now, I don't pretend to speak Italian, and I'm sure I don't know how to say that name perfectly, but I'm pretty sure it has four syllables rather than those two, which sound quite unfortunate together.
It reminds me of when poor Terri Schiavo was in the news. Everyone kept pronouncing her last name as "Shivo" for some strange reason. Maybe it was because they saw the sad appropriateness of her actual name--"schiavo" (three syllables, starting with "sch-" as in "school") means "slave" in Italian.
Now don't even get me started on the weird ways people pronounce town names in the Boston area. . . .
Do any of you have any mispronunciation pet peeves?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I have also gotten more interested in storytelling of all forms. Though I know a movie takes hundreds more people to come to life, sometimes I'll watch one and think, Man, I could have edited that story a lot better--the plot and characters might have even made sense. (I'm looking at you, "Because I Said So.")
I also find that whereas in the past I might have admired the actors or director in a really great movie, now I'm mostly interested in the person who usually gets the least spotlight of all, the writer. Like after watching "Little Miss Sunshine," I went straight to IMDB to find out what additional movies by Michael Arndt I could watch. (Sadly, the answer is not very many--yet.)
How has your perception and/or awareness of storytelling--whether in fiction or non (biography, journalism, "reality" TV, documentary, etc.--they are all putting forth a narrative)--changed since you started writing/illustrating/editing?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I will just make a brief linguistics-related comment. (I am fascinated by linguistics and language, and very much regret not taking a linguistics class in college, or really very many classes at all besides those that I thought you needed to go to law school, because that's what I thought I wanted to do since I was twelve, and I never questioned it till much later. Ha, I also like run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentences.):
I absolutely hate this new trend of calling everything people love to indulge in as guilty pleasures (wedding shows, home-decor magazines, cute-animal websites) "p*rn." I don't even want the word on my blog because I hate it and how it's become so trivialized--the more it's used for innocuous things, the more the real stuff gets treated as mainstream and not at all problematic. And it is problematic, people. (I did find room in my schedule take Women and Gender Studies 101 in college, obviously. ; P ) The root of the word p*rnography comes from the word for "slave/prostitute." It's not fun or cool or deserving of a cutesy nickname.
Also, dictionary.com defines it as: "obscene writings, drawings, photgraphs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit." 'Nuff said.
Monday, June 8, 2009
"So, I saw an interesting movie recently that I thought was worth talking about. Not necessarily because it was awesome, but because it was about something that sounded so simple, but manifested itself in a very interesting way; the worldview of an optimist. I'm not sure if you have seen or heard about Happy Go Lucky, but the premise is pretty simple. It is basically about a woman (Poppy) who gets her bike stolen, and has to learn how to drive in order to make her daily commute. The way her personality is revealed in the film is through her interactions with family, friends, and her driving instructor who is this admittedly bizarre misanthrope, the perfect foil for her sunny charm. Poppy is this remarkably cheerful, happy person and not in a creepy over the top way , but an actual multi dimensional happy person. It sounds silly even as I write it, but portraying that kind of optimism really is amazing, and it feels really fresh and innovative because most people can't create that person without making them sentimental or excessive in some way.I have to confess that at times I found her personality puzzling, and downright annoying but I think it says more about me, and my lack of exposure to people who have embraced their circumstances so positively. I also thought the storyline was so interesting because if you sat down and thought to yourself "I want to make a story about an optimist" is this the conceit you would use to tell that story? I mean it could have been done more obviously if, for example you gave your main character a major, life altering obstacle to overcome and they proved their optimism by conquering it with grace. When I think about things like that it makes me admire people who can tell stories even more because they have to consider so many things in order to tell a story uniquely. So, the question this film got me thinking about is: why is optimism so hard to show? Or maybe it isn't and I just can't think of good examples in popular culture? Also, I wonder if an American filmmaker would take the same approach to this basic subject matter?"
"Yes, I've heard such good things about that movie, and it's on my queue. I think you pose a really interesting question. I was going to reply that we do have lots of optimistic movies/shows, but that they're actually ignorantly blissful, and that makes them negative to me as a critical-thinking viewer--like, the kids on The Hills are a pretty happy/lucky bunch, but it makes me pessimistic--but I realized that even so-called feel-good movies are so at the expense of others. Maybe they're making fun of someone to get their happiness or maybe burying their head in the sand about how what they're doing so optimistically is actually killing others (you know, like in documentaries about our government).Do you think pessism is just part of our society--maybe American society, as you posit, or maybe just humanity, at this point in time or since the beginning of it? I don't think pessimism is always a bad thing--it is intrinsically tied to realism and criticism, which is what we are doing right here on this blog. I guess if we were totally optimistic we'd be happy all the time, but then would there be anything to talk about, anything to explore? On the flip side, I guess, optimism is also what gives us the will to criticize and explore, makes us feel there's a point to things and encourages us to seek progress.I will say this: I can't wait to see the movie if only because I feel that we've gotten to this point where everything is jaded, cynical, and mean, and that's just depressing. Maybe I want an escape from reality, but I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm also interested to see how the story arc works in "Happy Go Lucky," since for a story to be a story it has to have a conflict and climax and solution found (ideally) by the protagonist."
"You posed a lot of great things for me to think about both with this movie and the idea of an optimist as a whole. I have to confess that I began reading reviews this afternoon, which I love to do even though they inevitably alter my ideas. One idea I started thinking about is whether optimism is tied to a moral scheme? Do you have to believe in certain moral imperatives to practice optimism or is your world more flexible?I like what you said about optimism often being portrayed as a kind of blissful ignorance, because I think that's the most common way we see it in our society, and it also seems like the way we judge happiness. When you said you felt dispirited by how jaded and cynical society has become I can't help but think that's (partly) the result of a full decade (at least) of non stop irony. Because that's the mode so much of our world operates in it is hard to step back and act or appreciate things wholeheartedly without feeling a little foolish. There always has to be a safe distance between a genuine emotion and how we imagine that emotion to be judged. I'm not sure how much of a tangent I'm going on here, but I'll attempt to bring this back to the movie. I think Happy Go Lucky is a pretty realistic movie, and actually fairly steeped in the banal activities of everyday life. Maybe that's what initially made the simplistic plot feel odd to me. There are no contrivances because this is a story with no irony, and I think it asks the audience to watch it in the same spirit. I do think that doses of skepticism are needed to cope with everyday life, and to your point to be a thoughtful critic. I also think to be happy in the way that Poppy is requires more then just a good attitude. It really feels like a worldview, a pre-determined choice not to judge, to hold back skepticism, and to always imagine the best. Pretty amazing right?"
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
First of all, what does this even mean? I feel like people think this is what you're supposed to say or think when a woman is looking attractive or celebrating a special occasion, but it irks me to no end, mostly because the ostensible meaning is that the woman looks like she is worthy of praise and worship, because her appearance merits it. How about celebrating a woman's athletic or academic or artistic accomplishments? How about a woman not caring how others perceive her? (And don't even get me started on people who say they get dressed up or get plastic surgery "for myself." I get that we don't live in a vacuum and others are part of our lives, but that kind of faux empowerment rhetoric is so infuriating and insidious, co-opted from feminism by forces that make money off anti-feminism.) If you want to feel like royalty (which is outdated enough), why not a queen, who actually probably has power? It's because a princess is young and pretty, and a queen is old and thus not valued, right? Interesting, too, that some gay men like to be jokingly called "queen" rather than "princess" . . .
All this to say that I may need to add an addendum to my post about Princess Tiana--because I don't necessarily think it's much better that little black girls are being targeted with all this princess stuff, either. From the incessant marketing of the Disney machine to the well-meaning hairdresser at SuperCuts last week who I heard telling a little girl getting a pageboy that she was getting "a princess haircut," princess speak is everywhere. Can't we give our girls another role model in 2009? Especially since being a "princess" seems to involve looking pretty (for others--little girls are taught very early that society's gaze is focused upon their gender) and acquiring more material things. Can we mix in astronaut and cowgirl and doctor and teacher and other labels in there, as we do for boys? Actually, if we say anything to the boys, it's very rarely about how they look like someone or something, but how they are acting like it. And isn't that we're always trying to teach all kids--that it's what's on the inside that counts, that all your dreams can come true if you work hard?
I promise I can tie this in to children's lit . . . and this is how: Even though, as I've said, I'm generally against message-y books done just for the sake of message, I do think we send strong messages through our art/media and we should take advantage of this. Why not tell a great story that inspires with a non-conventional main character, rather than continuing to publish the same old books that teach girls that they should like pink and fanciness and boys should like getting dirty and playing sports? Isn't there room for both genders to do both? That's not to say that there isn't room for all of the books on the spectrum--the sugar & spice books, the sensitive-boy books, the who-cares-if-you're-a-boy-or-a-girl books. And not to say that there aren't already great books that break the mold and defy the stereotypes. But I wish that the bestsellers--and what publishers publish, thus repeating the cycle over and over again--weren't just these traditional-role/pro-materialist books. I feel strongly that in our society today, life imitates art because our "art" is so powerful and pervasive, and sometimes it scares me how much it can shape our society for the worse.
This of course applies to YA-writing as well, if not more so. I think that especially on a topic that just hasn't been discussed enough, getting in-your-face with a message is sometimes the only way to go, particularly at the beginning of its introduction to the canon. For example, Neesha Meminger's Shine, Coconut Moon, is wonderfully written, with an authentic teen voice and story, but it's clear what the author's opinion is. And I loved that about it. This may make me rare among editors, but with my background in political science and sociology, I'm already a rare one.
Now it's your turn: Are there any topics or cultural ideas you think need to be addressed in kids' or YA literature? Any overused phrases or words that bug you to no end? Please share!
P.S. Apparently I can't help but be political, so why should I even try to keep myself from it?
P.P.S. Two other phrases that annoy me, and that are often used to describe women on the dating scene: "Down-to-earth" and "She doesn't take herself too seriously." The first I feel has lost all meaning in its overuse. And maybe it's just because I'm pretty sure no one would describe me as those things, at least not the latter, but I just feel like people know these are things you're supposed to want in mate, and so they spout them out. On the latter, though, why shouldn't we take ourselves seriously? To me that's about self-respect.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Another reason, of course, is to give authors and illustrators of color the voice and platform they deserve and have historically been denied. And, while I don't want to get too political or controversial here, I also know that some people are of the mind that no person can write from the perspective of a marginalized group if he or she has not had the same experience. Some may say that this in itself is racist, continuing racial divides and/or perpetuating the idea that people of color are always different, always victims. I take no stance either way, but I do want to note that there are notable exceptions to the rule of careful treading. The recent Greenwillow release Soul Enchilada, by David Macinnis Gill, for example, features a half-black, half-Tejana protagonist, and I don't think there's a white character (or at least not one explicitly stated as such) in the book. The reviews I've seen have all been quite good, and I think what really makes his book work is the amazing voice Gill gave the main character--Bug is so unique and so believable, you forget a middle-aged white man created her.
What I also thought was interesting in the Times was the comment by the African-American mother who said, “I don’t know how important having a black princess is to little girls—my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that—but I think it’s important to moms.” I think it's important to moms because they see what not having a black princess says about the place of their own little black princesses in our society.
Still, this relates to another concern in putting in minority characters just for the sake of diversity--the concern of tokenism. I've always felt that it would be pretty obvious to young readers if the kids of color were always the side characters and never the protagonists, teaching them subtly but surely that only white kids can be the stars. And while I advise against writing "message-y" books and instead tell writers to tell the story they are truly passionate about and the story that truly is a story, I do know that the best story will always say something to the reader, will impact kids so thoroughly.
At the same time, I'm torn about all this because of a personal experience I had: I used to have a "reading buddy" at a public school in New York City, who I would read with every other week at lunchtime from when she was in first grade through when she was in third. The books she picked out were never particularly literary or difficult, but tried to help her get the most out of them anyway, taking delight in how she became less and less shy about reading out loud, and how she actually seemed to be retaining the definitions of the harder words I would point out to her as we read. Her parents were Mexican immigrants, her dad a short-order cook and her mom a cleaning lady, and she had told me about how she, her parents, and her two brothers all shared one bedroom in their Brooklyn apartment, while her aunt, grandmother, and uncle shared the other. I was happy to hear her say that she was reading a chapter book with her dad every night, and how she would read picture books to her little brother. One day we were reading a book with a Latino character named Jose [insert eye roll] in it, and he said a basic Spanish phrase. I thought it was very token-y, but my buddy read the phrase so excitedly, pronouncing each word (including Jose's name) perfectly, and then proudly announcing afterwards that she spoke Spanish like Jose, too. It made me realize that it really is so important for kids to see themselves in movies, TV, books, etc., and even if it starts out with a "Muchas gracias" by Jose or an imperfect Princess Tiana, it's something.
I'd love to hear any of your thoughts on this topic. And also on the statement made by a columnist quoted in the article, who said that Disney should be ashamed because "[t]his princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community.” I'm not sure why that's so shameful. If it celebrates a city with a rich African-American history at a time far before the betrayals of our government in Hurrican Katrina, isn't this a good thing? Might it not increase more pride and interest in New Orleans, and interest in helping to rebuild it and its people? Or am I missing something?
Thursday, May 28, 2009
If "cooking" is what they do best, I don't think I will be "eating" there.