Friday Five

Remember the Friday Five questions at LiveJournal? I haven’t done those in ages. (ETA: they’re also posted at Dreamwidth.)

1. What was your favorite pastime in high school?

Reading books, same as now. I wish I had booklists for those years; lots of Madeleine L’Engle, lots of rereading.
I was also playing the piano and clarinet a lot, though clarinet especially was more a well-rewarded chore than a pastime.
I listened to more music and watched more music videos than I do now. MTV at shellynoir’s house and Channel 12’s Teletunes at Jenny’s.

2. What is your all time favorite board game/card game?

My most ardent love for board games was probably around age 5, so Candyland and Wildlife Lotto. But that aside, my longest-lasting favorite is Pictionary. It’s so fun! Come play Pictionary with me without keeping score.

3. What is the last movie you saw at the theatre and what did you think of it?

The Arrival. I liked the visuals a lot, and I liked the concept and storyline except that in the end it all came down to being about love interest and kid, like it couldn’t possibly suffice for it to be about a female scientist’s unprecedented discoveries and, you know, alien contact.

A few months later I read the novella it was based on, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” I got a lot of pleasure out of noting the differences, where the novella had more nuance and where the film had pumped up the drama. (And I’m not knocking that– the pumped-up drama is where a lot of those visuals I liked came from.) Like, in the novella, there is no drive out to the huge alien monolith and suiting up and all that– they just step in front of an alien video screen in a canvas tent. I’ll say it: the book is better. But the movie is good and has charms that the book doesn’t.

4. What is something (no matter what kind of mood you’re in) that makes you happy the moment you do it, see it, or hear it?

Seeing a happy dog go by. Especially if I get to meet the happy dog!

5.Do you believe that crop circles are made by human or alien?

I don’t have specific beliefs about crop circles because I know almost nothing about them. In general, I believe our understanding of natural phenomena and of ancient history is incomplete, and I look to that before ascribing alien agency.

The Spa

I really like the part of the book where the main character, who has gotten all beat up and come to a dead end, is taken to an out-of-the-way place whose inhabitants have their act together and get along peacefully with each other and their environment. There is usually a really great bath involved:

  • Aunt Beast in A Wrinkle In Time
  • Medwyn in The Book of Three
  • The Greeny Gorillas in Zahrah the Windseeker

A training montage early on and an oasis like this later in the book… that would make me so happy.

Wednesday Reading Meme, Lesbian Edition

Just finished: Sorry, Tree, poems by Eileen Myles. Most have short lines and are from one to three pages long. I like how their associations reach farther than my logical mind, but somehow I don’t feel lost. The endings feel like endings, but not overly tidy.

Here’s a bit from “Fifty-Three” that reminded me of my own desire to just look at trees and hang out with them:

I desire a big book about
this not better than them but
their friend.
Who doesn’t love the text?
a book about trees
it’s like a park
except that all its windows
face outside
you look up at the world &
go: oh

a book is
a web I suppose

saying you come
here to go
out an
trembling bridge
which a tree
I imagine
a tree
my best friend

By happy coincidence, Myles will be reading at Reed! On Thursday, April 4, 6:30 PM in the chapel.

And also, though non-thematic: Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine and The Talented Clementine. I picked up Clementine because someone said it was reminiscent of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Well. Clementine doesn’t name her doll Chevrolet, she names her cats after things in the bathroom. She isn’t told to “sit here for the present,” but she notes that being in gifted class has not resulted in getting any gifts yet. She gets in trouble for messing with the hair of the overachiever girl. And there’s a definite Henry-Huggins/Ramona dynamic between her and that girl’s older brother. It wasn’t reminiscent, it was downright distracting in its parallels.

I got past it, though. It is a little strange how the Clementine books are written in first person, but have more knowing smiles over the main character’s head than the Ramona books do in third person. But there are funny moments and Clementine has a great set of parents. I’m going to keep going with the series.

Reading now: the draft of a friend’s novel. I like the main character’s heartfelt voice, which reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky or Poly a bit. And I’m getting a glimpse of a cultural moment I missed but not by much– a decade, a degree or two of church immersion. Such a luxury to read an editor’s draft, too…hardly any typos or grammatical clunks!

About to read: A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet, by Judy Grahn. I read a little, not much, of Grahn’s work when I was in college. I dunno, I’m having a fling with the old-skool. Lesbiate and Smash the State!

The reason I know I’m about to read A Simple Revolution (and also What If All the Kids Are White?), or at least give them a try, is that I got them through interlibrary loan and therefore can’t renew them. Which brings us to

Sadly must return mostly unread: Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, by Heather Love. More academic than my usual reads, but I was intrigued by its focus on the shadow side of queer identity. Pride is compulsory, but what about the feelings it demands we get rid of, like shame, loneliness, and regret? Not that those are my favorite things to feel, but they’re key to our collective history, (see The Well of Loneliness and so on) and certainly part of most (?) of our individual and family coming-out histories.

What really made me take this book home was that I opened it to a quote from another book, José Esteban Muñoz’ Disidentifications, that I found fascinating and spooky in equal measures. Disidentifications is probably also too much theory for me, but here. “Recounting a joke that he shares with a friend, Muñoz describes plans for a ‘gay shame day parade’:

This parade, unlike the sunny gay pride march, would be held in February…Loud colors would be discouraged; gay men and lesbians would instead be asked to wear drab browns and grays. Shame marchers would be asked to carry signs no bigger than a business card. Chanting would be prohibited. Parade participants would be asked to parade single file. Finally, the parade would not be held on a central city street but on some backstreet, preferably by the river.

So now that’s here, and I can go to the book return tomorrow with a light heart.

review of a book I can’t find

Where is my (library) copy of Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer? I finished it day before yesterday, so it can’t be too many layers down. But I’ve checked the bathroom, by the bed, my backpack, the kitchen counter, and in the sofa cushions. I suppose it might be at work.

The book is about a grieving girl starting to put her life back together, while things keep happening around her. You know, just life things, things that happen especially when you’re a teenager and can’t control that much around you, as far as people moving and school grinding on and your family trying to make ends meet.

I agree with this review at A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy that it feels good to read a book where working-class feels real. Shift work, jobs held and then lost and then replaced by other jobs, none of them great, hoping that enough family members have enough jobs among them at any one time to keep things going. Loa calculates what things cost in relation to wages and her family’s time. Her description of her part-time job at the nursing-home cafeteria is wonderful. Exactly what she has to do, how much of it there is, and it has to be done a certain way. It’s the kind of job knowledge and sheer endurance that isn’t respected or compensated, but is nonetheless accrued with a lot of time and work and hopefully lets you keep your job even if you’re still in high school. The last book I read with that working-class feel was on my 2009 list, David Gifaldi’s Listening for Crickets. They’re more rare than you might think.

There are a lot of science and art references in the book, and they hit a nice balance for me too. Loa didn’t have the “I’m only sixteen but I live for science (or painting, or whatever)” trope. That trope is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I think it’s one that appeals to my inner teenager and is actually a fiction. Things hit Loa hard, but it can be all different things. Also, I didn’t feel pressured, as a reader, to buy into some “let’s present a science metaphor and all express awe at it oh wow and now let’s congratulate ourselves for being deep and sensitive” *cough* Madeleine L’Engle *cough* thing. It was just stuff, albeit rich stuff. If you’ve read the book, you can see some of the art at the author’s website. And other cool tangential material; Woolston is a professional indexer and it kind of shows!

I liked Loa herself a lot, and that’s where the book is a little frustrating to me, at least on first reading. Loa is grieving, and I think on the taciturn side anyway. (Props for this not coming off as the frozen-ness that marks a lot of Sarah Dessen protagonists, for instance, and that I think is a bit of a false-depth device. Loa is also honest and hilarious, which helps a lot.) It took about 35 pages for me to hook in and care about her. The story opens with multiple layers of trauma that still aren’t the main trauma in Loa’s life, and I rattled around in it all.

On the other hand, by the end I really appreciated that the changes and resolutions didn’t fix or even address the Big Everything issues. Some smaller things got straightened out, and showed almost incidentally that Loa was changing and healing. When I find the book again, I want to go back to the beginning and see if it strikes me differently.

I have a feeling this book may stick in my head for awhile. It won the Morris Award for best debut novel, so I’ll definitely be watching for more from the author.