Book of the Month Club: Two Popular Books and A Crazy Poet

I have more time on my hands lately than I’ve had in years. Especially if I let that pile of laundry just sit there. Staring at me. Accusingly. This has resulted in some good and bad things. One of the good things is my reading list is actually getting read. Which is awesome. So I’ve decided to post the occasional update about it, in the form of this book of the month club style review. My reading list has always been supremely nerdy. Which is no great surprise. It leans towards science fiction, fantasy, and poetry. Although I’m not averse to reading something else that crosses my admittedly narrow field of vision, it is almost always one of these books on my desk. So, the three nerdy books of the month, in no particular order.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was a great gym read. It’s fast paced and exciting, and I read most of it while on the treadmill at the gym. Which is weird- dystopian young adult science fiction isn’t an obvious choice for a book reading while running. But it makes sense, in a way. The book is about a scary future in which different towns have been subjugated by a central Capital city, and are forced to send two tributes to compete in the titular games. The games are essentially a gladiatorial where everyone fights, and the last person to survive wins. Not an original premise, but a well-executed one. It was a fun read. Apparently they are making a film, which is a shame. The protagonist will be turned into a generically hot girl. The character in the book is refreshing, realistic, and three dimensional. She seems like a real girl, given the situation in which she finds herself. I’m starting the second book in the trilogy soon.

Speaking of second books in a series, I’m also reading The Magician King, the second in a series by Lev Grossman. It is easy to describe this as a Harry Potter for adults, which is fair enough, though it doesn’t do the book justice. It’s really more of a book about how these escapist fantasies like Narnia and Harry Potter are a response to the psychological trauma of our society. And despite some excessive drama, the books are fantastic. The story centers around graduates of a magical school (featured in the first book) who are living in a Narnia-esque kingdom. The main character is a typical “smart outcast” stereotype, but the author writes with an amazing self awareness. It’s a meta concept that could have easily become silly, but he makes it work. In a way I’m shocked at how popular this series is, but it’s nice to see.

And of course, any of my reading lists would not be complete without the obligatory poetry rant. I’ve actually been catching up on quite a bit of poetry this month, including some Susan Howe, Robert Duncan, Charles Reznikoff, and others. But sitting on my desk is a collection of poetry that is simultaneously amazing and responsible for horrors in poetry: The Poetical Works of John Keats. It’s no secret that most poetry is terrible. There a few reasons for this. One of which is the idea that poetry is simply prose narratives told slightly askew. One is that love of words is all a poet needs. But a major problem has been the inability of current generations to bring the energy and passion for language that people like Keats took for granted and translate it into a modern verse. Some try and succeed, of course. But most fail, because they can’t effectively use the tool of language. When Keats writes with the particular rhyme and meter of his age, he was using the poetic vernacular of Romantics, the words of his society. He was experimenting, but within a framework that made the poems work. Poets today are either experimenting for the sake of experimenting, or using prose as though it is poetry. Keats was doing neither, though no one bothers to read him to remember that.

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The Horrible Awful Sleep Conundrum

I dread the evening routine at our house. Typically it involves brushing teeth and story time, and then lying in bed arguing with Taviri for hours. He is scared to be alone at night, so we usually stay with him until he falls asleep. This has been an easy enough thing in the past- there were days when he was asleep in ten or fifteen minutes, and we get up and go on with our day. Lately, however, it’s been a problem. He does not want to sleep. He is scared of the closet, of the imaginary monsters. Tonight he told Jaime that he “feels like something is there, and I’m just barely getting away!” Of course he has to freak me out thoroughly in the process of keeping me up. The weird thing is that I’m not sure what to do. He isn’t arguing to stay up, or get something. Even if I were inclined to just “give in” and do what he wants, there isn’t anything to do! I can tell him his room is safe, but he stopped trusting anything he couldn’t verify with experiment at age 3. And honestly in a world where Michelle Bachmann is considered a viable political candidate it feels disingenuous to tell him there are no monsters. This is a way in which having a sensible, matter of fact daughter cheers me up. Arkaedi is just as creative as he is– her games are full of voices and characters and strange events. But she just deals with everything. There are, as she describes them, “monsters with no eyes” in her room. Cause for concern, sure. But nothing to miss a nap over. She is going to get to bed and cuddle her lemur, or pink Godzilla, and go to sleep. The monster will just have to accept that. Taviri is all histrionics. Arkaedi is business. I never thought that one thing I would really wish for would be for the kids to go to bed on time. I’ve become my mother. Except… I kind of believe him when he talks about the monsters. But like Arkaedi, I want a good eight hours of sleep before I have to deal with them.

Princesses with Frogs, Ponies with Wings

I’ve recently finished dozens of books. The one advantage of being underemployed is plenty of time. And libraries are one of my favorite uses of free time. Arkaedi knows the poetry section better than most three year olds, I would imagine.

One book in particular, called Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is a light, poppy, conversational book about a woman (Peggy Orenstein) who has a little girl. This little girl is enamored of princesses. Specifically, the trademarked Disney Princess line. This book is my first exposure to this culture. Somehow, perhaps due to her age or our peer group, Arkaedi has no interest in princesses. Having lived in either Seattle or Ithaca, I am surrounded by parents who closely monitor what their children watch and read. There is an across the board tendency to avoid commercial toys and games. I don’t think anything of that stuff, really. To me it’s a relic of the past. I even call her “Princess” sometimes, but she doesn’t usually respond. She prefers Arkaedi. Or, as she says, “Unkaedi.” I hope that she is just pronouncing it incorrectly, but perhaps it’s a code word, and she is actually a changeling. Maybe the real Arkaedi is in fairyland.

Today I had my first taste of what could be in store for me. We were at a friend’s party, for a little girl Arkaedi’s age. The theme was unicorns. “Ponies!” Arkaedi immediately exclaimed. This was awesome. She even got a goody bag that included her own unicorn toy. We got into a discussion about unicorns, pegasus, ponies… but she didn’t care. They were all ponies. “You call them that! I say they are ponies with wings! Ponies with horns!” She will have no dictionary nazism. Things are what she says they are! I actually came out of the conversation a little excited about unicorns, no matter what we were calling them. Which is strangely embarrassing.

I loved the unicorn party, because it was not exclusively corporate. They weren’t a trademarked type of unicorn (Sorry, pony with horns). They were just fun magical toys, and the kids were enamored. The imaginative play was there, the ubiquitous scripting that invades most children’s activities was avoided. It was great.

The one thing that really sticks with me from the Peggy Orenstein book, however, is the association of looks with a girl’s value. Beyond the corporate shilling, which I think I can mitigate to some extent, there is the larger problem of “Princess” being code for thin, white, and perfect. This is a lot harder. For one, my normal nickname for Arkaedi is Pretty Sue. Sure, I tell her she is smart, and strong, etc. Which research does indicate is very important to avoiding some of the traps of self esteem being tied to looks. But I still call her Pretty. Many times a day. As if enforcing the concept of pretty as central to her being. Or, more accurately, focusing everyone on her looks.

And the other side of the problem for Arkaedi: She IS pretty. She is really gorgeous. Everyone says that about their kids, of course. But Arkaedi is prettier than a lot of kids. Her big blue eyes, her amazing hair… these are going to get her attention. At three, she doesn’t know that. She doesn’t seem to even know what pretty is, in truth. She says I’m pretty, which is a sure sign that the concept is not sinking in. Whatever I am, it is most certainly not pretty. I have never occupied the same general area as pretty. Scruffily handsome, maybe, on my best day. But Arkaedi has learned that pretty means smart, beautiful, awesome… whatever she feels like. Pretty is Pony with Horns, not Unicorn.

I wonder how I can hold on to that idea. Or if I should abandon calling her Pretty. Switch to some other nickname. I can certainly come up with a great nickname, if I need to improvise. Something that tells her how powerful, amazing, courageous, charming, and wonderful she is. Something that tells her that when I’m sad or confused or feel like a failure all I need to do is look at her to feel like life is perfect. Something that tells her that I need her to be her, with all her heart, every day of her life.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something good. Then she’ll change it if she wants. That’s Unkaedi.

Comics in the Age of Interwebz

Daredevil, I had no idea your origin story was so R rated!

I’ve always loved comics. As I got older, and the typical teenage interests of girls and guitars superseded my love of comics, I lost track of the medium. I’m just the kind of person that marketing gimmicks like series reboots are made for– and as such, I am in the process of getting a few of the #1s that DC is releasing this month. I don’t know how sensible of a move it is. I mean how many people are like me, and enjoy gateways into old series via reboots? I’m guessing not a lot. I suppose DC is guessing differently. I hope they do well. I’ll enjoy the new issues. Especially since I have the perfect comic viewing platform, my iPad.

In most ways I was always a Luddite. It was a peculiar dogma, and it meant a lot to me for a short period of my life. I never would have thought of comics on anything other than newsprint. I even preferred the older newsprint, four color comics over the glossier versions that came out in my teens. In hindsight, I think that was as much about a nostalgia for years gone by as it was a real aesthetic appreciation. As I’ve written here recently, I have an amazingly unhealthy anachronistic streak. Comics were a part of that.

I’ll read the DC reboot on my iPad. I already read older comics, the newspaper strips, and a few webcomics on my iPad. I guess my Luddite side has lost out. Or been buried… it’ll resurface during my much anticipated (by me) crotchety old man phase. (Scheduled to begin at age 45. I’m getting in early.)

I think the disappearance of my anti-technology tendencies is related to my general distaste for ideological positions as I grow. I have no more patience for abstracts ruling my life. At 15, I was excited by the TRUTH that I could KNOW… At 25 I felt obligated to pursue the ideas that had meaning to me. At 35… I am happy to make an effort to be a decent person, to follow my hear, as cliched as it sounds. I’m less concerned with abstractions as truth, and more interested in just living my life. Perhaps crotchety old man me will be back to living my life out of a pamphlet. More likely I’ll find everything highly ridiculous and amusing, like a Vonnegut caricature.

It would be supremely silly and awesome if I grow up to live my life as an abstraction in an effort to avoid being an abstraction. I would appreciate that. Probably even find it wryly amusing.

Regardless, the new comics will be fun. Hopefully they will include less training montages of people in tiny underpants. I’ll be fine if they do. I’d hate to be dogmatic about it.