Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Rise And Fall Of D.O.D.O. -- Not a book for the undereducated.

This is perhaps the most unusual book I have read in quite some time. 
The idea is simple enough: the magic of witches ceased with the advent of modern technology, and the US government wants it back -- for its own ends. At first a small operation is set up, but once a witch is found, the department (DODO) becomes very large -- and eventually is forcibly reminded that witches are unreliable and unpredictable.  A good deal of time travel is involved.
Interested?  Well, hang on there a moment; this is not YA or event Chick-Lit.  Nope.  This is not particularly a novel for grown-ups as much as it is a novel for the intelligent and well-educated.  In other words, I know some people who could've read this and loved it at age 12, but I'm pretty sure most people ought to pass this one by.
To get the humor and subtlety of this novel, I suggest that the reader should have the following:
1) a basic understanding of physics
2) some knowledge of coding and basic computer science
3) a good background in European history, the politics of Elizabethan England, early American colonization, piracy, the vikings, and the Crusades.
4) had at least a basic course in linguistics (understanding of language trees) and preferably a working knowledge of at least one language besides English.
5) a good familiarity with Shakespeare and his most famous plays, as well as his contemporaries and their works.
6) a decent familiarity with Beowulf and the writing style employed by the poets of Old English -- and the great literary faker James MacPherson (author of Ossian's poetry)
7) slogged through James Joyce's Ulysses at least once.
8) read enough books by Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott,  and Charles Dickens to have a familiarity with the style and syntax used.

In other words, this book is dense reading, but for the bright and educated, it's hilarious and delightful.
It's not like Harry Potter, the classic "crossover" series which can be read on multiple levels (i.e. one can understand Rowling's plot without understanding her cleverness with Latin and numerous literary and historical allusions).  Not at all.  For DODO, the reader MUST have an IQ above room temperature, the ability to read for a sustained amount of time on a post-high school level, and the equivalent of an undergrad education.
I loved this thing.  The ending leaves room for a sequel; I hope there will be one. :D

Friday, March 31, 2017

Not The Dystopian Resistance We Expected

Those of us who are older have been having 1984 and Brave New World nightmares.
The younger people have been looking for Katniss to show up.
But, no, the #Resistance has been led by the National Parks Service, Teen Vogue, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  And filled to bursting by thousands of women wearing pink knitted hats.
It's not what we expected, but here's hoping it works.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Benevolent Sexism Is Just As Nasty As Overt Sexism

Today Twitter went nuts over a Washington Post article about our "Christian" VP Mike Pence and his "Prayer Warrior" wife Karen.  It seems the article reminded everyone that Pence had once declared that he never eats a meal alone with a woman who is not his wife and that he will not attend events with alcohol unless she is there with him.
His fan club, conservatives, and other regressives jumped on this to lash out at progressives, liberals, and Democrats, saying that no one is allowed to be negative about the fact that Pence is faithful to his wife.  They contrast him to trump (lack of capitalization is not an error), saying that #45 is sexist with his "grab them by the pussy" remarks, but that Pence is just being a good "Christian" husband.
I say they're both sexist and both attitudes are equally harmful to women.
You see, I'm entirely too familiar with the Pence brand of benevolent sexism disguised as Christian devotion and fidelity to marriage vows.  Mormons are really big on 1 Thessalonians 5:22 "Abstain from all appearance of evil."  Mormon men are never supposed to be alone with a female who is not their wife or near relative.  They are required to go in pairs when paying official visits to women, giving blessings, doing acts of service, etc.  There are strict rules about other men being nearby when a woman needs to have a confidential chat with her bishop.
I've known LDS male school principals who were extremely uncomfortable when a female staff member closed the office door to talk to them without being overheard.  I know single/divorced women whose assigned Home Teachers (men who are supposed to check up on members' well-being monthly) refused to enter their home (would only speak to the woman from her front porch) or refused to visit at all (even with their partners). I know an unmarried woman who purposely asked for the assistance of an unmarried man, yet he refused to be alone with her during the time it took to give her a blessing (some 10 minutes or so).
I was so used to this that I perceived it as somehow normal -- until I lived in Scotland, where Mormons are few and far between.  Male university professors there met with female students one-on-one without fear or shame. The window washer for my dorm did not feel the need to prop the door open when he spent 3 minutes in my room with me while cleaning the window. Male students met with female students for study groups -- and they studied.  Imagine that.
Yes, our 45th President is a sexist pig who thinks it's OK to grope and grab women he finds attractive and to belittle those he finds unattractive.  This is overt sexism.  It reduces women to objects of male gratification and all men to potential sex offenders.
But Pence's benevolent sexism is no different. It presumes that all women are either sluts or temptresses and that men cannot control themselves around them.  Women are still objects; men are still all potential rapists.
Just because Pence is only on wife #1 doesn't mean he's any more likely to value women than trump is.  And Pence's record of controlling and demeaning women's rights bears that out.
Pence may be monogamous, but that doesn't mean he's not sexist.
UPDATE 4/1/17: This is an excellent article on this subject.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Perspective

Yesterday I woke up with nasty back pain.  I contemplated taking a sick day (I have over 200 coming to me; I can definitely afford one.), but I decided -- as usual -- that it was more trouble to prepare for a substitute than it was just to force my aching body to get to school.
I pulled into the parking lot at 6:50, slowly dragged myself out of the car, and began to waddle toward the building, when I saw our lone wheelchair-using teacher struggling to get her wheelchair out of the trunk of her car, her legs (thinned by the ravages of a 16-year war with MS) wobbling beneath her.
The ROTC is supposed to make sure there's always a kid to help her before and after school, but there wasn't even a non-ROTC kid in sight, nor was there any other adult to help her. 
Of course I went to her.  I gritted my teeth in pain and lifted her chair out for her, snapped the wheels on as she explained how, and held it for her as she got in.
Yeah, I hurt even more afterwards, but I shut up about it.  After all, I can WALK; she can't.  I'm sure she'd be happy to swap me for the back pain any day.
It's all about perspective.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones






This is the best book I've read in months!
It was released at the same time as Caraval, which got all the hype and was .... postmodern.  But this!  Wow!
The author has taken Christina Rossetti's poem "Goblin Market" (She even names the protagonist Elizabeth, like Rossetti) and mixed it with Goethe's and Schubert's "Der Erlk├Ânig," throwing in the myth of Persephone and just a titch of Labyrinth with her unnamed Goblin King of "austere" (most over-used word in the book) beauty and "thistledown" hair looking all-too-much like David Bowie as Jareth.  But all of this is woven so skillfully together!
 I devoured this book.
The characterization is strong: Liesl/Elizabeth is a feminist character who does not need saving by a man; her goal is to save her siblings.  She isn't pretty, which is a nice change.  She does not spend the whole book looking for a man, and, even though her unsurprising romance is a major part of the book, it is not what "makes" her as a person.
The setting is good, with enough historical touches thrown in to make it feel real.  (There is that anachronistic weirdness of what appears to be a Medieval monk teaching the Goblin King to play the violin, however. )  And the plot is multi-layered with several surprises.
I thought at first it was a stand-alone, as the ending is fabulous and should really be the final end.  But then I noticed that the tiny subplot of the grandmother and the Goblin King is never worked out thoroughly, that Liesl never resolves things with her emotionally manipulative father, and that her brother's conflicts are left hanging.  Therefore, in spite of the fact that Liesl's main conflicts have been resolved and she's in a good place (as is her sister), I'm guessing there will be a sequel to bring a cheesier ending; I just hope it doesn't spoil the goodness of this one.
If you feel like reading a modern fairy tale that feels as old as the Grimm Brothers' tales, try this.  It is magic sliced into a novel.
I borrowed this book from the public library, but it's so good that I'm going to buy a copy to keep!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: Caraval

Stunning cover, isn't it? 
Well, you know the old saying: Don't judge a book by its cover.
Don't.

I was really excited to read Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and then I discovered it would be the Owlcrate book for February and come with a whole bunch of circus-y stuff!  Wow!
And the Owlcrate (for once) did not disappoint: the lipbalm is nice, the totebag is cute, the notebook and bookflags are attractive and usable.
But the book.... Well, it's not worth the hype.

Look, I'm just not a big fan of postmodernism anyway, but postmodernism in YA is just.... wrong.
YA is supposed to make sense; this book doesn't.
It's supposed to be sort of Alice In Wonderland -- on steroids, but it has more weirdness in it than Lanark and more "What the hell?!" moments than Beloved.  (Your sister's been kidnapped -- kidding!  No wait; she's dead -- kidding!  Not really!  You've set this whole vicious game in motion -- kidding!  It was your father and your fiancee!  Kidding -- it was your sister!  Except it wasn't, not really, because your sister's boyfriend -- who likes you -- kidding!-- is in on it.  Maybe!)  And it has more endings than French Lieutenant's Woman.  (But, after you've been through several of them you learn: it's not over!!!  There will be a sequel! )
The writing is fairly descriptive: the reader gets a good look at the mystical island where Caraval takes place (think: Venice mixed with Candy Land, only evil), and Garber has given the protagonist that Buzzfeed characteristic of "seeing" her emotions in color.  But the characters aren't terribly likeable (Scarlett is weak, and Tella's a brat), and the mess-with-your-brain postmodern factor is nightmarish.  In fact, I was rather surprised that Scarlett didn't "wake up" at the end, as Alice does, to discover it's all been a bad LSD trip.  (If Lucy had appeared in the Sky With Diamonds or ducked into Willy Wonka's factory, it would have fit in and not really confused the plot much more.)
If you love postmodernism, this is your book.  If not, well, be forewarned.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Book Review: Bookman Dead Style by Paige Shelton



This is the sequel to Shelton's To Helvetica And Back.  It's set in a fictional town which strongly resembles Park City, Utah, during the time of a film festival which parallels the Sundance Festival (with even a sneaky little nod to Sundance in the form of a secret password).  It involves movies stars, wannabe stars, polygamists, and, of course, a spot of murder.  (For what is a cozy without a murder to solve?)
I've read every single one of Shelton's books, and this new series is my favorite.  The setting is charming, for one thing.  And, unlike many other cozy authors, Shelton's protagonists are never stupid or helpless women who must constantly be rescued.  That's a big plus.
If you're a cozy fan, a Sundance fan, a skiing town fan, or just someone looking for a fun winter read, give this a try.  It's a delightful little escape from reality.