Books read in 2010 11-13

I wanted to write fuller reviews of these, but it hasn’t happened and I am tired and my computer broke today so I am on my brother’s laptop, which doesn’t actually affect my review-writing abilities, but does affect my mood. Do you see that run-on sentence? Do you really want me to write reviews tonight?

Books Read in 2010

1. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
2. Locked Inside by Nancy Werline
3. Chew Volume 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory
4. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
5. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
7. Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci
8. Footprints in the Snow by Sheng Yen
9. The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street
10. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
11. Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich – This was good, pretty much exactly what I expected. Each chapter takes on a different aspect of homesteading, with the first half being Woginrich’s ruminations on her own attempts to homestead and the second half being some practical details. There is less focus on the “urban” side, because Woginrich bought a farm to start homesteading and her ultimate goal is to live out in the country. That isn’t my goal, but I still found Made From Scratch a good primer for basic details and a personal touch. I also loved her Resources section in the back. This one is definitely worth checking out, whether you want to start homesteading yourself or just want to read about it. Woginrich is an entertaining and easy-to-read writer. I ate this one up.
12*. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier – JL is one of my favorite young adult authors and bloggers. I don’t want to say much about this, except that I enjoyed it immensely and it helps to fill the void of YA about sporty kids. It has a bit of fantasy (I love fantasies like this where you don’t know whether magic really exists) and a bit of romance and some good female friendships. Yay!
13. Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen – This is a straight-up guide to urban homesteading. I really enjoyed the focus on homesteading in the city right after reading Made From Scratch. Coyne & Knutsen fill their book with information and, though they aren’t as easy writers as Woginrich, it’s obvious they’re articulate people. Ideologically we differ a bit – C&K are environmentalists through and through and seem to want to homestead out of activist ideals. I just want to grow some of my own food and watch chickens. Also, there were many, many typos and, like I said before, no page numbers. I would think this was a ARC if it weren’t so obvious it isn’t. This book is so full of useful information, instructions, and projects that I’d love to own it. I’ll have to see another copy in person, though, before I do. What the heck use is a guidebook without page numbers?

The third book I got from the library, Keeping the Hive or something like that, I don’t think I’ll finish. I got about thirty pages into the book and there were already too many references to modern cultures being schmooshed with their ancient counterparts. I know that the author is not an anthropologist, so here’s a quick and important-as-hell lesson for him: all cultures change. The culture that doesn’t is the culture that dies. It may be that this one honey-hunting ritual hasn’t changed much in the last two thousand years, but for you to conflate the culture that performed it two millenniums ago with the one that exists today is very problematic and, in fact, turned me off so much that I put down your book.

*Back in the day (3/20, to be exact) I updated my 2010 list and said, “I have no idea whether or not this list is accurate anymore. I may have read a book during finals that I’ve completely forgotten about! Seriously, the last three weeks are a blur.” And I was right! My current #12 was actually number eight or nine, I think. Silly me!

Character Death

This post is gonna span the book border that I usually stick to, but bear with me. I’m going to be talking about the death of characters so SPOILER WARNINGS FOR:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Angel: Season One (television series)
Buffy: Season Six (television series)
Serenity (film)
A Sword From Red Ice by J.V. Jones
and others.

So, on with it. I was thinking about Joss Whedon’s oeuvre because I had just rewatched the seventh season of Buffy, the first season of Angel, and Serenity. And something occurred to me, which had occurred to me before, is that Whedon is the biggest emotional manipulator I have ever SEEN. He kills off characters, time and again, to get an emotional reaction from the audience, but doesn’t back it up with any… what’s the word? Larger meaning? Importance to the narrative? Now, I don’t mind a storyteller purposefully making me feel something – that’s his/her job – but I do mind if the only reason for a character’s death is to make me feel something. Because then I feel used.

So I starting thinking about this relationship between emotional response and narrative importance and then I started formulating a graph in my mind and filling in some examples (thank you, brother dearest, for helping me figure out the examples). I’ll show the graph in a moment, but let me define the terms I’m using first. Then I’ll show the graph, explain my examples and, lastly, open up the floor to comments! (Heh, I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Narrative Drive – a.k.a. narrative importance. This means that the character’s death serves a function in the plot or, at the very least, is mentioned again.
Meaning – I’m including this on the Narrative Drive axis because if a character dies at the end of a story, there can’t be a whole lot of plot affecting going on. There can, however, be a thematic meaning to his/her death. I’ll extrapolate more in my examples.
Emotional Response – Self-explanatory, I think?
Catharsis –  This is included because sometimes a character you care about dies, but it happens quickly or is glossed over and there is something missing in your emotional response. That something is catharsis.

It looked a little bare when I scanned it in, so I added AWESOME animal footprints and some of the animals that made them. It's almost like I'm a child.

In no particular order, here are some explanations (forgive the names, it’s late and I don’t have the time to think up awesome categories):

The Emotional Manipulator (high emotion/low meaning) – Wash is the perfect example of Whedon’s EM tendencies. His death is tragic and painful, especially for people who have seen the show, but it serves no narrative purpose or thematic meaning. As my brother said, “He dies so you’ll be sad.” There are quite a few examples of EMs, but none that I can think of at the moment outside of Whedon’s work.

The Important Ones (low emotion/high meaning) – Lupin and Tonks are the opposite of Wash. Of course, you’re heartbroken that they’re dead, but they don’t get a death scene. In fact, they barely get a mention as Harry is dazedly walking through Hogwarts! This is why I included the “catharsis” caveat. The reader has no time to grieve and so doesn’t experience catharsis. You might be wondering why they scored so high on the other axis, though. They don’t affect the narrative much, as they die right at the end of the series. This is where “meaning” comes in. JKR is making a point with their off-screen deaths: war sucks and people die and sometimes you don’t get to see what heroes they were because you were fighting too and suddenly it’s over and quiet and so many, many people you love are gone. Other examples include: Kvothe’s parents in Name of the Wind (important to him, also their killers are relevant later),

The Strongest Ones (high in both) – Charlotte… I don’t really know that I have to explain this one. It’s interesting to note, though, that all of the examples I could think for this category had hugely traumatic deaths at the end. The whole book/movie built up to that death and that is why the death itself was so extremely powerful and scored high on both of my axes. I hate these stories. I mean, I love Charlotte’s Web, but my other examples ripped me up so much that I couldn’t even stand it. Other examples: Bridge to Terabithia, The Man in the Moon (movie)

The Middle Roaders (somewhere in between) – Tara from Buffy dies and we’re heartbroken because we love her and it’s important because Willow goes ker-AZY, but on neither axis is it hugely devastating/important. Doyle from Angel is an interesting example, I think, though I probably wouldn’t have thought of him if I hadn’t just watched the first season of Angel. He’s introduced as a main character, but dies halfway through season one. You’ve spent around ten hours with him at that point, plenty time to become emotional attached, and while his death doesn’t affect the plot, per se, it does affect the characters and we see them in a grieving process that lasts for multiple episodes. Of course, I would have liked to see Whedon going farther, like having Doyle’s seer abilities pass to Cordelia a few episodes later instead of the next episode or not having Wesley show up right away, and seeing how Angel and Cordelia cope in those circumstances, but I’ll take what I can get! There are tons more of these, of course – it’s probably the most common kind of death.

Forgotten Ones (low in both) – This was a hard one. Neither my brother nor I could think of a major character who dies without either the reader caring or importance to the plot. There are, of course, tons of minor characters who die this way, but we felt it should be a more major character. Additionally, we felt that the book the character was drawn from should be of some quality – it’s just not very interesting to say, “This character from this sucky book had a sucky death.” Now, I haven’t read any J.V. Jones, but my brother assures me that Lan Fallstar from A Sword from Red Ice, fits this category pretty well. He’s pretty much a douche (so we don’t care that he dies), is in half of the book travelling with a main character (so he can’t be called a minor character), and after his death, everybody just moves on. Case closed!

And that’s it. Well, no, there’s more to say, of course. For one thing, the qualities I chose to talk about, while I find them interesting and relevant, are not the only ways to talk about or the only important things about character death. For another, where a death is placed, especially on the emotional axis, depends a lot on the person reading/viewing/experiencing the story. I was sad about Doyle, but I’m sure others weren’t. I didn’t cry the first time I saw Wash die because I hadn’t seen Firefly, but you’d better bet that I’ve cried every time since!

Also there are incredibly complicated, circular deaths that don’t fit on the graph. Have you seen The Fall? It’s a movie that is about storytelling. Without giving away too many spoilers, the plot is a man telling a little girl a story that he’s making up as he goes along. Near the end (it’s a fantastic movie, so if you haven’t seen it, you maybe should stop reading and go watch it!), the man starts killing off characters and the following exchange happens (this may not be exact):

Little Girl: “Why are you killing everybody??”
Man: “It’s my story!”
Girl: “Mine too!”

Which gets into one of the hearts of storytelling. I’m not tying The Fall very well into this discussion of character death, but trust me, it’s relevant. Maybe someone else who has seen it can take it away in the comments?

One last thing, though I didn’t talk about video games, I think this is actually especially important for them because of their interactive nature. I think these would be even more debatable on the emotional front. Some quickies: the Companion Cube in Portal (I would argue this is high on emotion, low on meaning), Aeris from FFVII, any of your Sims (though that gets into other issues, like whether your Sims are characters, and how different it is when it’s a story you’re creating), etc.

Thanks again to Brian for helping me out with examples and just generally helping me think through this post a little more!

And now it’s time to open up the discussion. What examples do you have and where do they fit on the chart? How important is it to think about this stuff as a reader, as as a writer? Any other thoughts?

The Danger of a Single Story: Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie’s wonderful TED talk seems to be making a second or third round on blogs right now, so I thought I’d do my part and link ya’ll to it. It’s truly one of the best TED talks, and that is saying a lot. If you have twenty minutes to spare, click the link below.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

From the site:

“About this talk: Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.”

Book List

Lost in Books hosts a weekly meme called The Book List. This week’s topic is:

Three Books I Should Love, but Actually Hate

1) The Great Gatsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald – It might not be fair for me to put this up here, as I read it in high school and not since… But, man, did I ever think that this book is overrated!

2) The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien – Okay, this is cheating, too, since I don’t actually hate these books. It’s just… The world he created is so complex and the mythology so deep and wonderful. I don’t think, however, that the writing itself stands up to the world-building. And, unfortunately for it, fantasy novels and worlds for many years based themselves off it and the plot and characters and, hell, the world itself has become cliche. I guess I feel like LotR is like Freud – the founder, the great populizer – and, again like Freud, we’ve moved onto bigger and better things.

3) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – Here’s a legitimate one. I cannot read this book. Fanny and Edmund are both such stick-in-the-mud IDIOTS and I don’t care if they ever get together. I hate this book!

I think it’s interesting that the books myself and others have chosen are either extremely popular (like Harry Potter) or classics (like all of mine). These are the books that we feel we “should” love.

Library Haul – Urban Homesteading

I went to the library today and got three books on something that I desperately want to try as soon as I’m not moving every year: urban homesteading. We’re talking a vegetable garden, a couple of hens and a bee hive, all in my (nonexistent) backyard. And that’s just the beginning – you can keep pigs and goats and rabbits, oh my! But what I really want is a vegetable garden, a couple of hens, and a beehive. It’s the American dream, no?

I’m most familiar with gardening, as relatives on both sides of the family are way into it, so I didn’t pick any books that focus on it. I’ve already got that background. I can make things grow – it’s one of those things I know I can do. I’d want all of the normal things: potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peas… Ooo, and some sort of squash and corn! I could do that magic trio thing! But I also want, oh so much, an artichoke plant. They’re one of my favorite foods and my aunts have a couple of plants and I’m just so jealous! I’d also a fruit tree, but which kind? Not avocadoes – I love them, but it would be too much for me. I need something I can preserve. Not apples or lemons, either. Maybe plums or pears?

I’m digressing. My dream is just so captivating! But let me tell you about the books I got:

Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich is the one I’ve already started. Woginrich spends most of each chapter with narratives about her own journey and ends them with some basic information about getting started on your own, so I thought it would be a good primer.

The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen is completely a guide – no narrative – and is more focused on the urban lifestyle. (Woginrich eventually would like to be completely self-sustaining, quitting her day job and everything. Her idea of paradise is getting away from it all in the country; I don’t share that dream.) I’m excited for the book, except for one huge drawback – there are NO page numbers! … Yeah, I have no idea who made that decision.

The last book I got isn’t about urban homesteading, but is instead “an intimate history of bees, honey, and humankind”. At least according to the subtitle. The book is Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchanan. I figure that if I’m going to keep bees (someday), I should know a bit of their history!

One last book I really wanted, but was checked out: The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. It looks totally awesome.

It’s the End

I had hoped to make it longer, but my circadian rhythm is so completely set that staying up until even 12:30 is a pure feat of willpower. Here’s my final tally:

Title of book(s) read: Sabriel
Number of books read since you started: Just the one.
Running total of pages read since you started: 491
Running total of time spent reading since you started: it’s hard to say since I had so many interruptions. Somewhere between six and seven hours.

My goals were: read for ten hours, finish at least one book, and comment on lots of blogs (since I signed up to be a cheerleader).

I did finish the one book and I commented on plenty of blogs, so I actually didn’t do too badly. Of course, I had planned for those goals to be minimums, but hey! I’ll take what I can get. Next time, though, I am definitely starting with a shorter book that I can knock out of the park right away!

Well, even though I didn’t read as much as I wanted to, I still had a lot of fun. Time to sleep and I hope you all have a lovely time finishing this up! Happy reading!

RaT

Sorry for any of you whose RSS feeds have been flooded today! I promise, only a few more of these updates. ;)

I’m still plugging away at Sabriel and have passed the halfway mark. I don’t have any more plans for the day/night, so I’ll get at least a few more solid hours before calling it a (rather unsuccessful) day.

Here’s a couple of mini-challenges. First up is Michelle’s, who asks, “What was the first book you loved?” I adore this question and I think my answer is:

It’s a simple, simple book about a bird eating an apple. There are no words, but the illustrations are gorgeous. I remember being a wee child and staring for what seemed like hours at the swirling colors of the apple.

And now Jennifer’s mini!

  • What steps did you take to ensure you’d be able to read as much as possible today? I made no plans, picked books that I thought would be good, and had plenty of easy-to-make food.
  • Of those steps,  which proved to be the most beneficial to your day? I think they all would have been useful if only they had worked out!
  • Is there anything you might do differently next time? I think I would start with a quite short book, something around two hundred pages.