“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 28, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

What are you currently reading?

Lately, I’ve had a hard tine focusing on any one thing in particular even – especially? – if it’s really good. I’ve been on the same page of Iron-Hearted Violet for almost a week now, though I did get halfway through Capture the Flag before one of my students borrowed it off my desk. I checked out The Hobbit from our secondary library, too. I think the difference is, Capture the Flag and The Hobbit are in print, but Iron-Hearted Violet is an ebook.

I hope I can snap out of this slump soon. As a young and unsettled expat, 99% of my library is on my phone.

What did you recently finish reading?

When You Reach MeI read When You Reach Me in about two days, after an SLJ review suggested it for people who liked The Riverman. I still haven’t made up my mind about The Riverman, and I won’t until at least I’ve had a chance to read The Whisper, but probably not even then, until the third book comes out. I’ve accepted the possibility that I might never know.

I do know how I felt about When You Reach Me, though, and that is: it was awesome. It was awesome in a quiet, creeping way that sticks with you, but I dreamed about it both days I read it, and that’s always a sign of a book really sinking it’s teeth into you and not letting go. (This book was also in print, from our school library.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I need to get through Iron-Hearted Violet. It’s really frustrating me that I’m having such a hard time focusing on my phone, because, you know, this book is really good and filled with things I love (headstrong, imperfect girls! the multiverse! things seeping through the walls between worlds! clever metafiction!) and for some reason, I just go crosseyed looking at it. Sigh.

If this ebook slump continues, then I’ll make my way through The Hobbit and then, if I’m still having a hard time, onto The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub

Top Ten TuesdayAfter all the fun of reading everyone’s free choice Top Ten lists last week, it’s back to an assigned topic: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub.*
(*if I had a bookclub)

Last year, there was some talk of a Stonewall Japan book club. I created a group on Goodreads, but then nothing ever came of it, but here (the first half of the list) are some books I would like to read if I can ever get that going.

As usual, these are in no particular order.

  1. TakarazukaTakarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, Jennifer Ellen Robertson We’re in Japan, so we should read about Japan, right? The Takarazuka Revue is a wonderful thing that must be seen to be believed. It’s a homosocial world of all women actresses with adoring female, usually married, fans. There’s a lot to chew on here, and maybe we could go to a show after?
  2. The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault I admit, I have mostly selfish reasons for wanting to read this one with a book club. First, I know some people in Stonewall Japan are totally smart enough to understand it. Second, I’m not that smart. I would love to sit at Chu’s over ginger ale and talk with some other expat queers about this book.
  3. Wandering SonHōrō Musuko (Wandering Son), Takako Shimura This manga is a story about two friends, a trans girl and a trans boy, as they’re growing up. It was adapted into a twelve episode anime in 2011, too, so we could do one of those “read it and then watch the movie” things.
  4. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Mark McLelland I know that at least one Stonewall Japan member is researching BL manga for a doctorate thesis, so I would love to read this and then pick her brain about it. BL was the first queer content I could access as a rural queer teenager and, really, how weird is that? a white American teenage lesbian reading about gay Japanese boys in comics written largely by and for straight Japanese women. This would be a great discussion book.
  5. Shiroi Heya no Futari (Our White Room), Ryoko Yamagishi I admit, I had never heard of this one before I started looking for books to add to my list, but Our White Room is the trope codifier for a certain subgenre of girls love manga, originally published in 1971.
  6. KitchenBad Girls of Japan, Laura Miller This one isn’t strictly a “queer” book, but it could be some interesting discussion fodder for Dyke Weekend. So much of a nation’s fears and hopes are projected onto the bodies of young women, and how young women act to acquiesce, subvert, or challenge patriarchal societies is always interesting.
  7. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Chiho Saito Utena is a classic girls’ manga. I think everyone’s heard of it, at least; I know I’ve never had a chance to read it, but a book club would be the perfect chance and I know from overheard discussions that there is a lot in this to talk about.
  8. Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto This is a famous contemporary work of Japanese literature (which I have never read) and one of the major characters is a trans woman.
  9. Our White RoomQueer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities, Mark McLelland There’s been plenty written about Japan by 外人 (gaijin, foreigners) in English, but what I think makes this book a good one for discussion is that it’s translated essays from queer Japanese people, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
  10. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Fumi Yoshinaga This is a sweet manga about the blossoming romance between two middle aged men in Tokyo, a salaryman and a hairdresser. The salaryman loves to cook, and their romance is told through their meals together and it’s really sweet.

There are so many good books about sexuality in Japan, but I didn’t want to just list them all here. I know a lot of these are dense academic texts, but this is the kind of conversation that I know I enjoy, and judging by the Facebook group comments, I’m not the only academic queer expat who enjoys this kind of conversation.

Fictional Friend Friday: Fay D Flourite

Fictional Friend Friday is hosted by The Quiet Child.

Fay D FlouriteI would be lying if I didn’t start this meme with Fay D Flourite, one of the supporting characters in CLAMP’s TSUBASA: RESERvoiR CHRoNiCLE (and now, the sequel, WoRLD CHRoNiCLE).

(It’s ファイ•D•フロライト in Japanese, alternately romanized as Fay, Fye, Fai, and Flourite, Fluorite, and Flowright. The only thing anyone can agree on is the D, but it’s not an initial, so it shouldn’t be followed by a period. CLAMP’s official, if slightly bizarre, romanization is Fay D Flourite, except that it rhymes with “eye” and he’s named after fluorite, the stone. It’s complicated.)

Fay is, without a doubt, and a little embarrassingly, my favorite fictional character in anything, ever.

It’s typical of manga and anime to have certain archetypes, and for fans to prefer characterizations. I have a friend who likes the quiet sociopath character. My students usually love the brash hero or sweet friend best. My favorite characterization shorthand is the quiet, smiley one with a deep, dark secret.

That character? will almost always be my favorite, and Fay is that character better than any other. (Sayuki‘s Cho Hakkai comes in a close second.) He’s sweet and tragic and funny and sad and really, really ridiculously good looking.

There’s a reason I put TSUBASA on my list of Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread, and that reason is Fay. Oh, it’s an enjoyable series in the sense of pretty art and cool outfits and kicking butt, and then at the end the plot turns into a glorious train wreck, but what really makes it my favoritest manga ever is this character, Fay.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 21, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

Iron Hearted VioletWhat are you currently reading?

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, and it’s so good. I have a few other books on my ereading app (don’t I always?) but this one has just been so amazing that I haven’t even been tempted at all to see what else I’ve got on there.

What did you recently finish reading?

I read (and reviewed) Vivian Apple at the End of the World.

During my lunch breaks at work, I read Afternoon of the Elves, the 1991 Newbury Medal winner, in the Open Library online reader. It was … okay, I guess, but I’m surprised it was a Newbury Medal winner. Was 1990 just a slow year for children’s fiction, or something? It wasn’t bad, exactly, but with that golden sticker on the front, I was expecting better.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I still have Shadowplay on my phone and I’m about halfway through So You Want to Be a Wizard. I should probably try to get through my backlog of half finished books before I start anything else, but “should” doesn’t necessarily mean “will,” because one of my students is reading The Fellowship of the Ring and another student is reading The Golden Compass and I want to reread both of those things now so I can talk about it with them. (Not that I haven’t almost memorized both of those books, but, you know.)

Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie and it’s too much responsibility!

I decided to write about my “Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread.” Some books stand up well to rereading and revisiting at every stage of life, but others fall flat when you’re older and wiser.

… and, since I’m still pretty new to this book blogging game, I thought it would be a good “getting to know you” list.

  • More More MoreMore, More, More! Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams I haven’t read this book in years – maybe literally even a decade, at least – but it was my absolute favorite book when I was just a baby and toddler. I asked my mom to read it to me so many times that she eventually got sick of it and hid it on top of the fridge, forgotten until I grew tall enough to reach up there for the chips I wanted for an after school snack.
    I always loved books, no doubt thanks to my mother’s patience in reading this book to me over and over and over again, until I can still – twenty years later – recite some of it from memory. (I probably would have hidden it from me, too.) Maybe I didn’t just learn to love reading from my parents, but to love rereading, too.
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry My fourth grade teacher read this one out loud to us, and I remember the dreamy feeling of knowing I had just experienced something important but not quite knowing what. I knew that I didn’t understand it, not really, and I understood that understanding would come in time and there was no need to rush it. I was basically Hermione when I was in school – know-it-all, frizzy hair and everything (see below, about Harry Potter) – so it really was incredible, knowing that I didn’t know and that knowing would come in time. Now it’s my honor to read this aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students and hope it touches one of them the way it touched me.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneThe Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien I finished reading Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, frantically turning the last few pages as the lights went down on the Saturday matinee. (Spoiler: Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Imagine my surprise.) My dad took me to see it. I was so excited. It was hard – I fought harder to read The Lord of the Rings than I have ever struggled to read a book in my life – but it was so worth it. I return to this one periodically when I need a reminder of my dad, or of who I am – as a person, as a reader. Every time I reread it, I feel like I understand it differently; I used to identify most with Merry and Pippin, or Éowyn, but last time I read it, Boromir really… I finally got Boromir.
  • Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling I loved books before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USian), but I haven’t loved something so completely before or since. I doubt I ever will. Growing up with Harry was a thing, and nothing quite like it will ever happen again, I think. I dressed up for the book release parties of Book 4, Book 5 and Book 6. (I was in China when Book 7 was released.) Whenever I feel sad, or nostalgic, or homesick – or, let’s be honest, just whenever – I like to pick this up and reread it, revisit Hogwarts. Every time I read it, I identify more or less with other characters. I’ve always been very much like Hermione – she’s probably what made me adore the series so much – and as I’ve grown up, I’ve understood or identified with Tonks, and McGonagall and Remus.
    I read Sorcerer’s Stone thirty two times before I stopped counting (and I stopped counting in seventh grade/2002).
  • The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman The only books that mean more to me than Harry Potter are His Dark Materials. While Harry Potter was a lot more fun, His Dark Materials moved me, when I was a tween, in a way I didn’t really understand. I only knew for certain that I had experienced something monumental, something huge and life-changing, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even say what had happened; I still remember sitting in the library parking lot trying to explain to my dad. Every time I reread this, I understand it a little bit better, and I feel like Lyra (re)learning how to read her alethiometer.
    I never really identified with Lyra – never in my life have I been half as wild or wily as her – but I admired her, and I still do. I wanted her as my friend, even as I was a little frightened of her; now I want to protect her, and I want Mary Malone as my friend.
  • TSUBASA: RESERVoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP I’ve only read this series front-to-back, first-to-last twice, because it’s long, and because my entire collection is, inconveniently, located on the other side of the planet. But I would be lying not to include it, because I would read and reread volumes over and over (… and over and over) waiting for the next release when it was in English-language serialization and I just love it soo much. I can acknowledge that the plot is … unstable, what with all of those plot holes, but gosh, I just love the characters and I swear, this silly manga series got me through college with at least a little sanity left over, even if it is completely ridiculous.
  • TSUBASAThe Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice Unlike the other books on this list, The Vampire Lestat has no particular deeper meaning to me. I don’t have, like, a deep attachment to it, or anything. It’s just fun. It’s some funny brain fluff and Lestat is a really great narrator. I’ve reread some of the other Vampire Chronicles books, but this one is my favorite, no doubt. Maybe it’s because I like Nicki? Or because Lestat is my favorite member of the Coven of the Articulate?
  • The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (Dark Tower series), Stephen King I can’t honestly include the whole series here, because I usually skip The Gunslinger and lose interest again somewhere in Song of Susannah and I always skip the middle flashback bit of Wizard and Glass, but man, some of the scenes in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (and even Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) are so cool. Like, I just know it will be soo satisfying to watch Eddie Dean destroy Blaine. I’ve already read that part a million times but I always cheer anyway, even though I know what’s going to happen.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Suess I’ve mentioned before that I reread this book every year around Christmastime. It’s true. My mom used to read it to me every Christmas Eve, and now I read it to my students during their last library visit before winter vacation. I love the rhyme and rhythm of the story, and I love the memory of my mother reading it to me, and I love that, once again, I have it nearly memorized. Most pages I can say without even looking, and the rest need only a glance before I’m off.
    I have to like the books I read aloud, as I usually read them between six and fourteen times a week, depending on my lesson plans, but this one is always my absolute favorite.

What about you? What are your favorite books to reread? What did you choose for your Top Ten Tuesday list this week?

Irregular Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Vivian Apple (2)

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple, #1)
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

So, Vivian Apple.

The Good

I could not put this book down. It’s one of those things that I would sneak in pages at any opportunity – on the train, during lunch, under my desk, in the middle of a conversation. I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know if the Rapture happened or not. (I won’t say. Spoilers.) Some twists, I sooo called before they were revealed. Others, I didn’t guess. It was a good mix; it shouldn’t be too obvious, or too difficult. This wasn’t a mystery novel, although the mystery of the Rapture is the question Vivian has to answer, and why she goes on her Great American Road Trip out west.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, and I think the sequel, Vivian Versus America, will help me decide whether or not I liked it. How things shake down from here will put the end of the first book in perspective.

Vivian felt real to me, and I think a certain kind of goody two shoes will relate to her, although personally, I think reading this as a high schooler, she would have annoyed me. But Vivian was very “likable.” She’s the sort of person you’d want to befriend.

It’s subtle, but there’s an undercurrent of feminism throughout the whole story. Vivian drives the plot, and most of the time, the car. The Rapture happens to her – and her parents disappear, leaving holes in the roof of their home – but after a little bit of wallowing, she takes action to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s Vivian who decides to leave the New Orphans and Vivian who decided to take this road trip in the first place; Harp and Peter are just along for the ride.

Along the way, she articulates her discomfort with the Believer’s anti-feminism, how women are controlled by Frickism, following “their” men a step or two behind, dressing “modestly,” punished for their sexualities. Frickian homophobia becomes a plot point, but that’s not something that happens to Vivian, but it happens to scare Vivian.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Vivian is a straight white girl. Her best friend, secondary character Harpreet Janda, is Indian-American. Harp’s brother, Raj, is gay. So, points for inclusion, but this is still Vivian’s story and, given the unsubtle message about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism, it would have been stronger if Vivian had been a person of color, or a queer, or disabled, or something that put her in danger from the remaining Believers.

As a non-Believer, Vivian is an outsider. Most of America has converted, and the “left behind” Believers are focused on a passage from the Book of Frick about how “the road to salvation is overcrowded with the damned” and some have taken that to mean they must exterminate the “sinners” – non-Believers, generally, but in particular, “harlots” and “fags.”

I would have found the story much more compelling if Vivian had more at stake – if Peter, the love interest, were Petra, for example. Even Vivian’s non-Belief isn’t a thoughtful articulation of her theological or even moral qualms with Christianity in general or Frickism in particular, she just floats along, not believing. How would this story go if she did believe, but in something else? What if Viv was Catholic? What if Viv was Muslim?

I don’t want to hate on this book for everything it wasn’t, but I think it could have been stronger if Vivian had more left to lose after the Rapture.

Sunday Morning Paper: A City Run by Children

A City Run by Children

At first glance, the experience offered by KidZania appears to draw on aspects both of symbolic play—the “let’s pretend” aspect of dressing up as a fireman—and of rule-based play, with its enactment of conformity to civic regulation. But by some definitions the activities at KidZania, however entertaining, barely qualify as play at all. Thomas Henricks, a professor of sociology at Elon University and the author of the forthcoming “Play and the Human Condition,” offers a list of the requirements for play: that children have chosen their own activities and their own play environment, that children decide whom they play with, that children decide their own rules and determine the stakes of the game or activity, that children choose when play begins and when it ends, and that children get to determine what their play means.

In KidZania, adults determine the content of activities in advance, and Zupervisors follow scripts that offer children little room for ingenuity or deviation. (There is no activity at KidZania that would do much to nurture the entrepreneurial skills of a young Xavier López Ancona.) The activities last, on average, about twenty minutes—and are far from open-ended or exploratory. Even artistry is directed. I passed by the art studio, where small children sat before easels, coloring in preprinted cartoon images of Urbano or Chika.

The Myth of Misandry

The plain fact is that there is no such thing as an institutional force that subjugates men just for being men, and arguing that one does exist makes you look naïve at best and also takes up valuable space in discussions where people are actually trying to accomplish something.

ADHD is Different for Women

ADHD does not look the same in boys and girls. Women with the disorder tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted. ‘They’ve alternately been anxious or depressed for years,’ [Dr. Ellen] Littman says. ‘It’s this sense of not being able to hold everything together.’

I never would have suspected my symptoms were symptoms; rather, I considered these traits—my messiness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, important-document-losing—to be embarrassing personal failings.

Helping You Help Yourself

Every time you see a headline that makes you want to scream get up and pour yourself a glass of water. Drink the whole thing and see if you still want to click on that link.

Mute or unfollow that person that you follow on Twitter even though you hate them.

Seven ways schools kill the love of reading in kids – and four principles to help restore it 

When parents ask, “What did you do in school today?”, kids often respond, “Nothing.”  Howard Gardner pointed out that they’re probably right, because “typically school is done to students.”  This sort of enforced passivity is particularly characteristic of classrooms where students are excluded from any role in shaping the curriculum, where they’re on the receiving end of lectures and questions, assignments and assessments.  One result is a conspicuous absence of critical, creative thinking – something that (irony alert!) the most controlling teachers are likely to blame on the students themselves, who are said to be irresponsible, unmotivated, apathetic, immature, and so on.  But the fact is that kids learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.

Agent Carter‘s ‘Feminism’ is More About Making Money than Gender Equality

The show itself? Not bad. Very smart, actually: It combines the current vogue for female empowerment via pseudo-historical fiction (Outlander, Game of Thrones, Mad Men) with a smart customer-retention strategy (filling the consumer demand for a female-driven Marvel project) with a built-in audience from a hot property (Captain America). It also manages to comport itself in a manner that is not obviously a cash grab, and to address—not to say “pander to”—feminist concerns.

And yet something nagged at me throughout the time I watched it—a sense that the show’s decent treatment of gender issues is less an earnest statement of the show runners’ personal values than a canny PR move on the behalf of pop-culture juggernaut Disney, owner of Marvel and, increasingly, just about everything else in the U.S. and global media landscape these days.