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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Time Rant

I work around books every day so I've always been reluctant to take the final step and start writing about them as well but now it seems that I've found something that I think is important enough to speak up for.  Recently in the Wall Street Journal a guest writer has been editorializing about the negative impact of teen fiction.  So consider this my letter to Megan Cox Gordan.

I still remember the day that my aunt gave me her battered copy of Lisa Bright and Dark by John Neufeld.  I was in sixth grade and the story of Lisa's descent into madness was beautiful and terrible at the same time.  I loaned it to a friend and then another friend and then another until it made it's way through every girl in my circle.  We talked about how horrible it would be to be Lisa and feeling betrayed by your own mind.  We talked about the fear that her friends had to feel and the helplessness when they realized they were too young to really help her.  I still have that book.  It's completely fallen apart by now but it sits in a gallon sized freezer bag as a reminder of that girl who, at twelve, was opened up to a wider world.  One beyond bike rides and first kisses.  One where the world was a scary place and things  weren't sunshine and happiness.

Lisa Bright and Dark was released in 1968 during the first golden age of teen fiction.  John Neufeld along with such visionary authors as Judy Blume, Paul Zindel and Norma Klein were writing real fiction for real teenagers.  These authors weren't afraid to touch on controversial issues.  They wrote about teen pregnancy and drug use heck, Love is One of the Choices is about a girl having a sexual relationship with her teacher.  They were honest and they were tough and I owe so much to these brave men and women.  They helped me see the world beyond my front door.  It comforted me to know that I wasn't alone in having problems.  That life wasn't Sweet Valley like everyone seemed to want it to be.

I ate up books by authors who dared to tell the truth good, bad, and ugly.  I came to know the characters to see them as friends.  Even then I seemed to like book people better than people people.  But for as many problem novels that I read I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, I wasn't promiscuous.  I didn't even swear.  And don't think that it was because I had some kind of super strict upbringing and snuck these books because that couldn't be further from the truth.  I was raised in a house full of honesty.  My aunt had me watching the nightly news when I was eight or nine.  I chose my own books from the first day I could read (though my aunt's suggestions were always welcome).  I listened to the music I liked.  And I turned out okay.

People like Ms Gordon insinuating that the content of teen fiction causes negative behaviors is short sighted and frankly unfair.  And not just to the writers.  But to the readers.  Especially to the readers.  I've been reading Thirteen Reasons Why and the thing that strikes me as absolutely fabulous about the book is how Jay Asher illustrates the small cruelties and how they can lead to much more significant events.  That isn't a book that should just be read by suicidal girls.  It should be read by every boy who brags about doing things with a girl he hasn't done and every girl who whispers behind her hand about what she heard happen.  Books like Cut shouldn't just be read by girls who are harming themselves it should be read by every girl because the feelings that led to cutting are feelings every girl has.  Loneliness, fear, isolation.   And maybe reading the negative impact of the behavior will keep one girl from hurting herself.  Or maybe it doesn't matter.  Maybe we should just let them pick out their own books and stop making such a fuss.  Because, really, when you get down to it we aren't reading these books (well, I am but it's my job to) they are.  And to them this is the world stark, sometimes horrifying and very, very real.  And you never know, in twenty-five years there may be a young woman with a battered copy of Thirteen Reasons Why in a baggie on her bookshelf.