Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm Ranting About Something Not Book Related, Feel Free to Ignore Me Again

Let’s get this out of the way first.  I know that not everybody agrees with me and I accept that.  No two people have had the exact same life experiences and therefore it’s impossible for two people to share the exact same opinions on everything.  This election cycle though I feel almost like people forget the reason why people make the choices that they make.  So instead of talking about those choices I’m going to talk about the things that matter to me because they’re fairly straight forward.

 Being a woman matters to me.  The knowledge that it took a Constitutional Amendment to get me the right to vote matters to me.  The fact that women fought and lost so much to gain that right to vote matters to me.  It means something to me to know that no one has power over me.  That no one can make decisions or life choices for me.   It means something to me to think that I would get paid the same as a man for doing the same job.

Health Care matters to me.  I’ve spent a good part of my life without health insurance.   I’ve been forced to go to the emergency room for an ear infection because I didn’t have insurance.  I’ve then had to lower myself to ask hospitals for assistance because my job didn’t pay me enough to pay the nearly five hundred dollar bill.  I’ve watched season after season as my aunt suffered from crippling allergies but had to just push through the pain and the sickness because, as a caretaker, she can’t afford personal health insurance.  And yes,  I’ve heard the arguments against Universal Health Care.  I can understand that people disdain giving their own money to pay for people who can’t pay it themselves but I believe that it’s our duty as a nation to take care of those less fortunate.

Which brings me to Social Security, Medicare, Medicade, SNAP and the myriad of programs known as Welfare.  I hear many people deriding these programs saying that those who take part in Welfare programs don’t want to work and just want to milk money from hard working Americans and though I don’t agree with them I can accept their point of view for what it is.  But here’s the thing, I don’t believe that 99% of the people on Welfare are on it because they want to be the way I often hear the complaints go.   I believe that most people who receive public assistance receive it because it’s either that or their kids don’t eat.  It’s either that or their power gets turned off.  It’s either that or they’re one of the millions of homeless in America.

Education matters to me.  I went to school to BE a teacher.  A lot of the time I think like a teacher.  But I’m not a teacher.  I’m not a teacher because I don’t know that I could survive seeing program after program taken out of schools because of budget cuts.  I don’t know if I could survive seeing standardized testing that only accurately shows a small percentage of students’ achievement looked at as the be all end all.  Schools need more money.  I’ll leave the teacher pay argument for someone else because EVERYONE makes more than I do right now.  But I can’t look past the facts that most school districts are underfunded and understaffed.  I can’t look past the fact that schools are losing important extra-curricular especially in the arts.  There is little more important than the education of the youth and yet each year we get more and more behind.  It’s time to realize that what’s being done isn’t working and try something that might work. 

The environment matters to me.  And it’s long past time that we stopped killing the planet in order to squeeze out more profits for already bloated corporations.  And while I recognize the need for energy independence in America I do not believe that it should be done with complete disregard to environmental issues the way that it has been in the past.

I can hear the arguments now.  Our country is dealing with a crippling national debt how do you think we could pay for all these things you’re talking about?  And I wish I had an answer but I’m not an economist.   I don’t know the answers.  I just know what I feel.  It’s why I’ll never be a politician or a political pundit.  I don’t know how to fix the problems I just know that they need to be fixed.

I am a (fairly) young woman.  The first president I remember is the first President Bush.  I lived through a time when the world seemed to change every day.  And, for a while, it looked like it was changing in good ways.  I remember this overwhelming sense of possibility attached to the world I grew up in.  But somewhere that world twisted.  I’m not sure when or where though I’m sure that there are those who would attach it to that cool morning in September eleven years ago.  But some time.  Somewhere.  The world stopped feeling like it was about possibilities and started feeling like it was about limitations.  Yeah, I’m sure that part of it was growing up and being divested of those rosey hued glasses that all extremely young people tend to wear but it isn’t just me.  And it isn’t just people my age.  I don’t know, maybe I’m still living in the shadow of those rose-colored glasses and disappointed that the world isn’t the place I wanted it to be.  But if I’m living there, I’m certainly not alone.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Working on Working

Okay, normally on the odd occasions I write something here I write about books because books are the thing I love most and the one thing that tends to stay front and center in my mind.  But lately thinking about new authors and the ways that favorites manage to never disappoint me has taken second stage to something that too many of us know too well.  That overwhelming feeling of not being able to find work.

I know I'm lucky.  I still live at home so I don't have rent to pay but I can see how my unemployment is affecting everyone else.  It used to be that my grandma and aunt could count on me to buy the extras that Grandma's social security just doesn't allow.  Every time I hear my grandma talk about how hard it's going to be to pay her property taxes this year I feel a little more helpless.  Every time I know that we won't be able to get a movie or TV show on DVD I feel a little more lost.  Every day that I try and fail to hear back about the dozens of resumes I've sent out I feel a little more overwhelmed.  They don't talk about how much you feel like you're drowning when you're unemployed.  They don't talk about how useless you feel.  How stupid you feel.  How completely ill-prepared to deal with the realities of the modern job market you feel.

Instead they politicize it.  And I'm tired of it.  Yes, I am what most people would probably call a liberal.  My beliefs lie strongly in the camp that we should help people out.  But I've asked for nothing.  Because other people need it more and I understand that but it doesn't lessen the fear.  It doesn't change the fact that I dread every day that goes by without an interview.  It doesn't make me feel any less stupid for not being able to do the things that are necessary to get the interview.

Because I still don't know what those things are.

There are innumerable rules in the modern job market. Resumes should only be one page long.  No, wait, they can be two pages long.  References should be included.  References should be a separate document.  You need a cover letter.  A cover letter isn't necessary.  You need to know someone who already works there.  There are jobs, people are just to lazy or too proud to take them.  There's a constant barrage of well intentioned people constantly telling you what to do, what to say, what to embellish and what to leave out.  All of the supposed rules make my head spin.

And so I try.  I try everything I can think of.  I change my resume.  I write a cover letter (even though I'm still not even sure what  a cover letter is).  I do everything that I can think of to make myself into the candidate that people want even though I still don't really know what it is that they want.

After fifteen years working in bookstores I want to make a change in my life.  I want to actually start saving money.  I want to eventually be able to travel, to buy a car, to take over the bills when I have to.  These are all eventualities that loom large over my head while I try to find something.  People tell me to take retail but retail doesn't want me because I can't work nights.  Offices don't want me because I don't have the necessary experience and training.  I could teach but I don't really want to.   And day by day time ticks by and I'm still here.  And I'm still trying and I'm no closer to work now than I was six months ago.

It's too bad that no one pays us to dream.  It's all I seem to be doing these days.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Smarter than You Think

Granted, this is one of those areas where I'm definitely speaking more from my own feelings on a topic than anything else but I have to say I get irritated when I hear people putting down adults who have turned to Teen and Young Adult fiction as being incapable of understanding the nuance of adult fiction.  So before I get further into why I feel that YA is a viable genre for adults to read without judgement let's just get some bare facts out of the way.

I have a degree in literature. 

I can analyze fiction with the best of them (thank you Aunt Sherri for giving me a complete base in archetypes to make this a simple task).

I have a great dislike for modern "literary" fiction (I'll get deeper into this in a moment).

Okay now that those basic facts have been addressed I'll continue.  I've long felt that Young Adult or Teen fiction does many things better than their adult counterparts though I don't think that it's because they're always more skilled writers (though sometimes I do feel that's the case).  More than anything though I feel like the reason that YA fiction is often more successful in garnering readers isn't because it's easier (have you read some YA fic?) I think it's because the writers are less caught up in being "important".  Rather than spend their time making themselves seem somehow better than everyone else these authors instead focus things where they should...on the story and the reader.

There is no doubt in my mind that John Green is one of the most literate voices of my generation (I'm speaking as someone his age not as a teenager).  What he's done in books like Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines is at a par as far as pure skill goes with any of the authors who are today's golden literary children.  But he chooses to write for teens.  And not only does he write for teens but he speaks to them.  He hand signed every pre-order for his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, not as a marketing ploy but as a thank you.  How many "literary" authors do you know who would do that?

The most recent Teen Blockbuster has been, of course, The Hunger Games which I like infinitely more than Twilight.  The Hunger Games series is acutally a good platform for my point since it's something that many people are familiar with.  A quick reading of the story and you see a girl who's fighting to the death in gladiator style games.  And that's all well and good.  But a deeper reading tells a much different story.  It tells of a society so corrupted that it uses the deaths of children as entertainment.  It shows how easily a person, no matter how morally and physically strong can be manipulated by those with more power.  It shows us a world and a hero that is far from perfect and how even the smallest choices (and refusing to act is a choice) can have far reaching effects.  Is it really fair to discount those thoughts just because they were written for a young audience?

Now let's get into my issue with "literary" fiction.  It seems to me that all too often modern literary fiction falls into two camps the "let's be so completely incomprehensible that everyone sees me as a genius" camp and the "let's put my character through an emotional wringer" camp.  Neither camp really has an interest to me as a reader.  Because, here's a big surprise for everyone, I read to enjoy books.  This has led me to the fringes of the literary world.  Instead of reading the latest literary titles I long ago moved to reading Fantasy, Romance and Teen.  Yep.  Teen.  And I'm not ashamed of this fact.  I look forward to a new book by Sarah Dessen, Libba Bray or Deb Caletti with as much anticipation as I do something from Sherrilyn Kenyon, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James.  This doesn't make me stupid.  In fact, I think it makes me smarter because I'm smart enough to know that my intelligence doesn't hinge on how people judge my reading habits.  I'm better (and smarter) than that.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Night Like This-Julia Quinn

I'm always happy when I manage to get my sticky little fingers on something early (thank you egalleys they're like chocolate for my soul) but there are a couple of authors who make my heart go pitter pat more quickly than others.  One of them is always Julia Quinn.

I discovered Julia Quinn quite by accident one Sunday morning.  I knew my family was going to be busy all day and I needed to entertain myself so I picked up a random book at my local Target.  That book was To Sir Phillip with Love.  Which is rather appropriate as I fell completely in love with the Bridgerton family in that book.  Since that day I'll eagerly anticipated every new release from Julia Quinn.  And I have to say that this one is well worth the wait.

Everyone who knows about the Bridgertons has witnessed a Smyth-Smith musicale.  They're things of legend within the Julia Quinn universe and I was thrilled beyond measure when I read that she was bringing this particular family to the forefront.  And I'd really, really enjoyed Just Like Heaven.  I felt that Honoria and Marcus were a fun pairing.  But A Night Like This far surpassed it.  There were sections of the book where I giggled for pages on end.  The three girls: Frances, Elizabeth and Harriet were delightful.  Daniel was the kind of hero that a girl loves to read about.  And Anne was a heroine to root for.  The interactions between Anne and Daniel were witty with their dialogue jumping off the page and often reminding me of the exchanges between leads in a 1930's comedy.

I don't want to give away too much plot because it's too much fun to get there on your own suffice to say that it's more action oriented than one typically sees from Ms. Quinn (a welcome change).  My biggest question now is who the third Smyth-Smith is going to be and if I'll ever find out what ultimately happens with Hugh, who is without a doubt my favorite minor character so far this trilogy (though Frances and her unicorn obsession comes in a close second).

All in all a utterly delightful read and more than worth purchasing.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I'd planned on writing something this weekend but I'd honestly intended it to be a reflection on learning that I wouldn't have a job come February.  I'd planned on writing about my surprise upon hearing my store was closing.  I'd planned on writing about how I'd felt like a piece of my soul was ripped away when I realized that I wouldn't be able to be around books the one sustaining passion in my life.  But then Stephanie Perkins stepped in and changed it all.  Yes, I'm still staring down the spectre of unemployment and the loss of a job that had truly made me happy but reading her new book, Lola and the Boy Next Door reminded me of something important, no matter how dark things appear there is one thing that almost never lets you down, a good book.

No, Lola isn't great literature but it manages to accomplish something that I feel is almost more difficult than writing a literary masterpiece and that's writing a book about real people and real emotions.  And it's those people and their emotions that keep me coming back and have been keeping me coming back for almost three decades.  I loved reading about Lola and her life and her very real struggles and insecurities.  Perkins did a fabulous job (in my opinion) taking a larger than life character like Lola and humanizing her, showing you through Lola's struggles that sometimes people adopt big personalities not beause they're fearless but because they're scared.

And the romance was fabulous.  If I were a seventeen year old girl and Cricket Bell existed I would totally be following him around like a disgusting, slobbering Lab puppy.  Not because Cricket was gorgeous but because he was just amazing.  He was thoughtful and stupid and boylike and he wore rubber band bracelets and his pants were always too short.

Too often I think that we're under the mistaken impression that a good romance has to be about star crossed lovers who just can't live without each other.  Call me weird (most people do anyway) but the ones that really get to me are the ones that are quiet.  Relationships like Anne and Gilbert that "unfold naturally out of a beautiful friendship as a golden hearted rose slips through it's green sheath." (sorry Ms. Montgomery if I got that wrong I pulled it from memory).  Those kinds of love feel so much more significant and profound to me than the star crossed varieties that more often than not feel more like obsesion or mental illness than love.

Anyway, thank you Stephanie Perkins.  You wrote an awesome book and it made me remember that I still have my books even if my voice is taken from me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tough Girls I Have Known

I've been a reader from the time that my aunt first introduced me to the mystery and wonder of words and letters.  Some of my best friends growing up were literary characters.  Recently, I read a quote from Al Franken about the lack of feminist literary characters and while I agree with him that the world of words hasn't had the literary equililant of Gloria Steinem or Helen Gurley Brown but I think it's both premature and downright unfair to dismiss women in fiction out of hand.

Maybe it's because, to me, feminism is more about women taking control of their own bodies and their own minds more than it's about anything militant.  For whatever reason I feel like I grew up with many positive female role models starting with Ramona Quimby.

I remember clearly being in second grade and being introduced to this little girl from Klitiklatt Street who gleefully pulled another girl's hair to hear if her curls when "boing" when them came back up.  Who's best friend was a boy named Howie and who's favorite book was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  Written first during the 50's and 60's I'm sure that it wasn't Beverly Cleary's intent to write a female character who defies gender stereotypes.  But the fact is that Ramona, in her rubber rain boots, taught me that I didn't have to be a girlie girl to still be a girl.

Thank you Beverly Cleary.

Next came Laura.  My love for Laura Ingalls and the Little House books was deep and enduring.  I learned from her that it's okay to be jealous sometimes, it doesn't make you a bad person.  That staying true to yourself and your beliefs is the most important thing you can do.  That sticking up for someone weaker than you are is well worth the trouble that might follow.  Her pioneer spirit infected me and affected me.  She told me that it was okay to be smart even if the world didn't want you to be.  And she taught me the value of loyalty.  The fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder made herself what she was and raised her daughter Rose to be just as smart and strong as she was is something that I feel like everyone should look to.

Thank you Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Then came the gentle influence of Ann M Martin.  No one would probably think that I would see her on this list.  Ms Martin who freely admits to feminine pursuits being her favored hobbies doesn't seem like the type who would set the world on fire with their feminist characters.  Until you look at the girls in the Baby Sitter's Club.  Each girl has their own strength and by all rights should have a place on my list but since this is my list I'm sticking with the two who I related best to.  Dawn I loved because we shared a name.  But more than that we shared a world vision.  Dawn was the first character I read who cared passionately about environmental issues and her views echoed my own growing environmental concerns.  I loved her because she spoke her mind and didn't try to pretend to be someone else just to fit in.  I wished that I could be more like her.  But the truth was, I was always a Mary Anne.  And Mary Anne's quiet strength I think might have just been Ann M Martin's BSC masterpiece.  Here is this girl who seems to be timid and easy to walk all over but when the chips are down and you need someone she's the one who's there and she's the one who will stand up when you least expect it.  I learned a lot about accepting myself as I am from Ann M Martin.

Thank you Ann M Martin.

Then came my first great literary love, Anne Shirley.  I don't think I've ever loved a character quite like I loved Anne.  I don't think a literary character has affected me in quite the same way that Anne did.  My road to Avonlea was different than my usual trip.  It didn't start with me finding the book.  No, the first Anne I loved was the Meagan Followes Anne from Kevin Sullivan's Anne of Green Gables mini-series.  But I did find a way to her books eventually and once there for the first time I fell in love with prose itself and not just the characters.  The way that LM Montgomery wrote amazed me and beguiled me.  From Anne I learned to love words passionately.  To care deeply and without judgement.  Anne herself was a heroine far ahead of her time.  LM Montgomery published the first Anne book in 1908.  Anne worked, she got a college education and she never stopped learning.  She might have also been the first girl to dye her hair green (even if it wasn't on purpose).  I read these books until they fell apart then I taped them together and read them again (and again).  I never cried harder than when Anne's son Walter was killed in Rilla of Ingleside.  And I don't think that I've felt like I've known a character bone deep in my soul before or after.

Thank you LM Montgomery.

Next came Meg Murray.  Meg's one who I don't know if I ever really connected to on a bone deep level.  Of Madeline L'Engle's female creations I think that Vicky Austin is far more loveable.  But Meg's anger and determination and frustration are important in their own ways.  Sure, maybe I didn't love Meg but goodness knows I respected her.  I think that she's a girl that all girls should know just for her strength of character alone because you can't read A Wrinkle in Time and not be affected by Meg.  In many ways Meg (who everyone should remember was from a book written in 1963) is the precurser to many strong girls that we would know later on. 

Thank you Madeline L'Engle

And the last strong girl (woman actually) who was part of my childhood is Lissa from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern.  Again, Lissa is a character born of the 1960's whose stubborn strength and lack of faith in anyone else but herself to get things done is significant.  By the time Lissa came into my life I was already pretty well set in the personality department but she was a reassuring character for me.  Here she was tiny and fragil and fierce.  Everyone with any sense feared her, as they well should have.  So Lissa's on this list for that reason.  Her fierce spirit encouraged me to stand up when the time was right.

Thank you Anne McCaffrey.

Sure, none of these girls (and women) are strictly what one would define as a feminist character but I do think that their influences ran deep enough and strong enough to teach me all that is good about being a woman and, at it's core, I think that's what feminism should be.  Faith in the strength of women to do their own work and know their own minds and their own selves. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm a fandom girl, a geek girl, I speak the language of the fanfic writers and the RPers (appreciate the former am the latter).  I love my world because it's generally accepting of differences and forgiving of faults.  It doesn't matter the gaping holes in plots or the weird turns that writers make when you're in a fandom you tend to love it with it's faults not despite them.  Which is why one fandom term has come to really bother me.  And it might just be that I take a negative connotation with it because I'm surrounded in the real world by people who hyper analyze everything and don't just enjoy them for the sake of liking them.

But recently I've realized that I don't like the term trope.  To me, it feels like an insulting term.  Like you're taking something detailed and amazingly creative (Buffy, Lord of the Rings, Dark-Hunter whatever) and boiling it down to it's cliches.  And I readily admit that if a different word or phrase were used I might not feel this way.  If you boil something down to it's archetypes I'm not offended (English BA that I am) but there's something unsettling about seeing something that you love and appreciate for it's complexity written off as nothing more than a series of cliches (or tropes...I really don't like that word).

I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority in my feelings about this (and I'm pretty sure I offended a good friend because of my resulting freak out) but I think I'm just tired of defending myself all the freaking time.  I get it.  Really, I do.  My taste isn't cool, nor is it sophisticated and it certainly isn't mainstream but it's mine.  I like romance novels and teen fiction and pop/rock music.  I like books that explore the ways that people connect to each other because we live in an isolated age.  I like music that moves through me and makes me happy.  I like knowing when I listen to a song that it was recorded for the sheer joy of making music.  I like TV shows that use language in unique ways.  And I like to enjoy them without running them into the ground.

Maybe that's it after all.  Maybe the reason I don't like the word is because I am a trope in my own way.