Books, Movies, Music & More: April 2015

Iron Hearted VioletApril was National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo!

Did I read any poetry? No, not really, except that I’m currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students, and a collection of random poetry books to my younger kids – A Pizza the Size of the SunEverything On It, and so on. I liked Wabi Sabi, but mostly I was uninspired.

Did I write any poetry? Not a single word.

Books Read in April 2015

  • Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (middle grade, secondary world fantasy)
  • Let’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi (manga, contemporary)
  • The Story Thieves,  James Riley (middle grade, multiverse fantasy – in progress)
  • Virgin: The Untouched History, Hanne Blank (nonfiction)
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black (YA, urban fantasy)
  • How to be a Heroine, Samantha Ellis (nonfiction – in progress)

I dipped in and out of reading slumps this month. Every time I thought I was smooth sailing, I would lose interest again. But I’ve found that informational texts can keep me interested, even when I’m struggling to stay focused on fiction.

Song of the Sea
Movies Watched in April 2015

  • Jupiter Ascending (live action, sci-fi – in theaters)
  • Song of the Sea (traditional animated, fantasy)
  • Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (computer animated, steampunk)

I love going to see movies in theaters, so even if Jupiter Ascending was, in the words of a friend, “space trash,” she was right to call it “glorious space trash” and I really enjoyed it. Song of the Sea, on the other hand, was completely beautiful, and not with the “guilty pleasure” disclaimer – it’s genuinely lovely.

Music Listened in April 2015

  • Kintsugi – Death Cab for Cutie
  • The Nights – AVICII

Thanks for the First Listen, NPR. I couldn’t stop looping Kintsugi for the first few weeks of the month.

More – Anything Else?
Fullmetal AlchemistTV Programs Watched in April 2015

  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (anime, adventure)
  • Criminal Minds (live action, crime drama)
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (live action, crime drama)
  • CSI: Cyber (live action, crime drama)
  • The Heroic Legend of Arslan (anime, war epic)

I started both CSI: Cyber and The Heroic Legend of Arslan this month. CSI: Cyber is a definite for me, even though CSIs don’t usually do it for me because I love the team. (Brody is my style icon.) I’m waiting to see if Arslan improves; the animation is subpar and the war epic isn’t my usual genre, but I’m invested in Arslan himself already and I want to know if he can bring peace to the kingdom of Pars through diplomacy, empathy, and mutual understanding instead of fighting like his father.

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Then Now Next Thursday (April 30, 2015)

The Darkest Part of the Forest THEN

I finished reading (and reviewed) Virgin: The Untouched History. Since I last posted a round up, I’ve also started and finished Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. That’s the quickest I’ve finished a fiction book, like, all year. I’m just having such a hard time concentrating, but man, it’s so good.

NOW

I’ve been really into nonfiction this year, so I read the intro to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, but then found that I wasn’t really interested in the stories, so I put it down and picked up How to be a Heroine, which I like a lot, even though I haven’t read most of these classics, except Anne of Green Gables.

NEXT

Karen Jensen on Teen Librarian Toolbox proposed the #SecondChanceChallenge, to give a book you dropped a second chance. I signed up and said I would try to read and finish The Twistrose Key and Shadowplay. Both were very good (like, I loved Pantomime, which is the first book in Shadowplay‘s series) but just not what I was looking for at the time, so I’ll give them both another chance.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____________

Top Ten Tuesday This week at The Broke & The Bookish, the Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _______,” fill in the blank. I decided to go with “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who I’d Like to Befriend.”

Isn’t that why we read, right? I love to spend time with these characters. Here are some that I would love to be their friend.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter, J.K. Rowling I don’t know if I want to be Hermione’s best friend, or if I just want to be Hermione. I’m not even sure we would have gotten along in school, because we would have been too similar and always competing to be the best in our class. I’m sure as adults, we could look back fondly on our respective know-it-all, insecure school days and laugh about how much we had in common, even though she was learning spells and defeating Dark Lords while I was stuck studying algebra and defeating school administrators, which is not quite as exciting. But Hermione is clever and caring, which are two traits I value highly in my friends.
  2. Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat would either be a wonderful friend, or her quirky weirdness would get old fast if it felt too forced. I think Weetzie is a genuinely oddball individual with a big heart. I would have loved to be her friend in high school. I needed a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that’s Weetzie’s M.O. It would have been so fun to hang out with her, because she’s so daring and adventurous and I’m so… not. Plus, Weetzie needs a friend to gently check her casual hipster racism so she stops wearing feathered headdresses.
  3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman Many of the characters in my list are kids or teenagers, either people I would have liked to be friends with when I was their age, or who I would like to mentor now as an adult. But I would want Mary Malone to be mymentor. She’s everything I wish I could be: compassionate, courageous, clever. She’s a scientist, a researcher like I want to be. (I want to study children’s literature, not Dust.) I would love to hear all about her adventures in other worlds, and emulate her as a teacher who is honest and open with her students, a good guide and role model, even if she is the “serpent.” I want to talk to her about Dust and science and falling in love and China.
  4. SaiyukiLet’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi I love ramen and, unlike Saeki, I have no shame about walking into a ramen shop full of businessmen slurping their noodles. I bet Saeki knows more about it than me (and she can read Japanese, which I can’t, really), but I’m not worried about going to a ramen shop with no other girls in sight. We could be ramen buddies! I hope she likes miso. (It would be a little weird, hanging out with a high school girl.)
  5. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani Although she’s grim looking, with tangled hair and tattered clothes, Agatha genuinely has a heart of gold. She spends the whole book looking out for Sophie, her best and only friend, even though Sophie is shallow, vain, and very unkind to her. Agatha is a good person with a good heart, the kind of person anyone would want to be their friend, and she deserves someone who won’t put her down all of the time like Sophie.
  6. Saiyuki, Kazuya Minekura The boys of Kazuya Minekura’s Saiyukiare a tough talking, rude bunch, who act like they don’t have time for anyone’s BS, but really, they’re all good people. want to go on a road trip with them across ancient China! They have this great camaraderie, even when they’re at each other’s throats, and I really like that. They can fight with each other and still care about each other, too. It was the “breaking of the fellowship” vibe from the last Tokyopop translated volume that really had me on tenterhooks, because I would hate for this band to break up!
  7. Hetty FeatherCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner Princess Charlotte, usually known as Charlie, is a scrappy but upstanding young girl. She has a hard time of it sometimes, and I wish I could live in her world and maybe do a bit of a better job teaching her than her tutors. I like to think she’d find me cool enough that she wouldn’t always skip her lessons. With no mother, or even really a maternal figure, it sounded like she could really use a “cool big sis” in her life, and I think she sounds like great fun to get to know. She’s very admirable, and also very funny.
  8. Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson In the first book, Hetty’s very young, and I wished I could reach into the pages and take better care of her than the awful foundlings home. By the end of the last book, she’s grown up to be a very courageous, if somewhat brash, young woman, who is very certain of her morals and unafraid to find her own way in a society that doesn’t have a place for someone like her: a foundling, an orphan, a poor girl who refuses to settle in to be either a servant or a farm wife. I hope some of her courage would rub off on me.
  9. Vampire LestatChangeless, Gail Carriger i know a lot of people don’t like Madame Genevieve Lefoux because she’s… morally ambiguous, to put it tactfully, but I think befriending her would certainly make life a lot more interesting. Unlike the others on this list so far, I’m not even 100% sure I would trust her. Okay, I probably would trust her, because I’m a trusting person, but it would be a bad idea. I would befriend Mme Lefoux against my better judgement, no doubt beguiled by her vanilla and machine oil scent and incredible fashion sense.
  10. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice I saved the two most questionable choices for last. Like Madame Lefoux, I am sure Lestat is not to be trusted, but I’m still intrigued by this soulful rock star memoirist persona. At least i would be smart enough not to trust him. (Even I’m not that gullible!) Like Madame Lefoux again, having Lestat in your life would certainly make everything a lot more exciting. But maybe that’s why it’s best to only visit him in his own book, where you can safely shut the covers on him.

Irregular Review: Virgin: The Untouched History

Virgin: The Untouched HistoryVirgin: The Untouched History
Hanne Blank
★★☆☆☆ (It was OK.)

Goodreads summary:

Why has an indefinable state of being commanded the attention and fascination of the human race since the dawn of time? In Virgin, Hanne Blank brings us a revolutionary, rich and entertaining survey of an astonishing untouched history.

From the simple task of determining what constitutes its loss to why it matters to us in the first place, Blank gets to the heart of why we even care about it in the first place. She tackles the reality of what we do and don’t know about virginity and provides a sweeping tour of virgins in history–from virgin martyrs to Queen Elizabeth to billboards in downtown Baltimore telling young women it’s not a “dirty word.” Virgin proves, as well, how utterly contemporary the topic is–the butt of innumerable jokes, center of spiritual mysteries, locus of teenage angst, popular genre for pornography and nucleus around which the world’s most powerful government has created an unprecedented abstinence policy. In this fascinating work, Hanne Blank shows for the first time why this is, and why everything we think we know about virginity is wrong.

While I was reading, a friend stopped by on my personal blog to ask how I was liking Virgin: The Untouched History. I told her, truthfully, that it was okay.

The Good

I like this kind of book, that examines, in detail, something everyday that we take for granted: cupcakes, harsh language, virginity, whatever. Virgin was a quick history of Western civilization from ancient Greek and Roman through Judaism and the rise Christianity, and then then advent of capitalism and urbanization through the lens of virginity. Interesting!

I also have a personal interest in this topic. I’m asexual; I’ve never been kissed. I wanted to read this and contextualize it in history. Blank covers it a bit towards the end, but virginity today gets a bad rap as “repressed” and associated with the heavy handed ideology of “abstinence-only education.” So what about holy virgins, Vestals and nuns?

The Bad

Virgin: The Untouched History was interesting, but not quite as interesting as I hope. Blank failed to strike an either properly academic tone (no footnotes, a casual writing style) or the jocular, chatty style of Mary Roach (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex) or Melissa Mohr (Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing). The attempts at humor fell flat, and detracted from the text as authoritative. (I’m not questioning her research, only her presentation.)

My other concern with this book was the hetero- and cis-sexism. I understand that the historical record might be thin about gay, lesbian, and bisexual virginities, and the virginities of trans people, but it can’t be empty. Even so, there is more recent writing on these subjects that warranted inclusion in the later chapters. There was a brief mention of a lesbian woman who sold her (penis-in-vagina) virginity, which would have benefitted from some exploration. Then at the end was a quote about stone butch lesbians, but it wasn’t explored, either. There was no mention of asexuality.

The Verdict

All I can say about Virgin: The Untouched History is “it’s okay.” If this is a topic that interests you, check it out. (I wouldn’t recommend spending money on it.) Otherwise, there are other, better popular nonfiction books that I’d recommend unless you have a particular interest in virginity. If you are, you’re in good company: virginity has been with humanity since the dawn of time.

If you’re not, I would suggest Holy Sh*t or Bonk instead.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Multimedia

Pokémon The First MovieEvery week at Reading is Fun Again, Pamela posts a discussion topic. This week, she asks:

Assuming that you are late to the party with a book series (and the entire series is completed) and you want to read every piece of text within a series’ universe that you can get your hands on, in what order to you read the books, short stories, and novellas within the universe?

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever jumped into a story that takes place across this many formats before! The only one I can think of is Pokémon, way back in the day; I collected the cards, watched the anime, then played the video game. I don’t think that “counts,” though, because the video games and the anime have different continuities entirely.

When I read Dark Tower, I started (and ended) with the books. I know there are graphic novel expansions and adaptations, but I’ve never read either; the art isn’t my style, and they’re so expensive. I think the books are the “main canon,” anyway; the other stuff is mostly extra. I would suggest someone reading it the first time skip The Wind in the Keyhole, because it wasn’t part of the original series, and save it for last.

Dark TowerI think, were I to start in a series with this many diverse media, I would figure out what was intended to be the main story. Is it a book series with a graphic novel spinoff? Then I would read the book series – in chronological order, of course – and the the graphic novels, or short stories. If it was a graphic novel series with some books on the side, then I would start with the graphic novels, and so on.

I always took great delight in reading things in the proper order. So much that I read all of Redwall in publication order to date (up to Taggerung) and then again, in in-universe chronological order, just to be perfectly sure. It was very satisfying.

Honestly, though, sometimes when I see that there’s so much for me to read, it scares me off a little bit. This is why I’ll probably never read/play/watch Homestuck. It’s like the thing that never ends! Talk about  archive panic, right? Which is too bad, because hypertext fiction, meta, and multiple media are all things that really interest me, but then when it’s time to sit down and actually read all of that, I start worrying about all of the other things I could be reading.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 23, 2015)

Let's Eat RamenTHEN

I’m back to bouncing around from one thing to another and never finishing a book. It’s very frustrating, but I just can’t focus! I did manage to finish Let’s Eat Ramen, a manga dojinshi collection. Maybe I should stick to graphic novels for now?

NOW

Currently, I’m reading the only kind of book it feels like I can finish lately, a cultural history. This one is called Virgin: The Untouched History. It’s no Holy Sh*t, but I’m enjoying it well enough to keep reading. I love learning more about concepts we take for granted, like virginity, or swearing, or cupcakes.

I’m still reading The Story Thieves, but the going is slow because 1) it’s kind of boring? which is a huge letdown because I loved the premise, and 2) I’m taking extensive notes on craft while I read, because I’m trying to improve as a writer, and because I love the concept of the book, but it’s just not working for me and I’m trying to figure out why (so I don’t make the same mistake)


Story ThievesNEXT

Well, if the sun ever comes out again, it will be spring/early summer, which is, in my opinion, the (second) best time (after New Year’s) to (re)read Weetzie Bat or Witch Baby or Baby Be-bop, or maybe all three. (I have the whole Dangerous Angels collection, but I don’t care much for either Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys or Missing Angel Juan.)

I have a library meeting coming up the week after next where we’ll get together and argue about books (it’s one of my favorite days of the school year), so I’m sure my TBR will get some substantial additions for summer reading, regardless of what we decide makes the final cut.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday I’m very particular about who I decide is a “favorite author,” and my criteria have changed over time. I’d much rather tell you my favorite books, but that’s not the prompt – although there is considerable overlap, of course. I just don’t necessarily think I’ll like every single thing an author writes, and that’s OK. Or, like, what if they’re a good writer, and I like their book(s), but they’re a terrible person? (I enjoyed Ender’s Game, but even so, I wouldn’t put Orson Scott Card anywhere on my “Top Ten Favorite” anything.)

So it took me awhile to come up with this list, and I’m still not entirely satisfied with it. I mean, what about Stephen King? I loved Dark Tower, but not only have I not read anything else by him, I never will! So I went with authors who wrote formative books for me as a reader, or my favorite books, or whose books I usually like – it’s not all the same, you know?

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneJ.K. Rowling OK, OK. I’m really only talking about her Harry Potter stuff here, because I’ve never read (and don’t plan to read) The Cuckoo’s Calling or The Casual Vacancy, but, you know, I really really love Harry Potter and it was such a huge part of my childhood and my development as a reader (and as a person) that I can’t leave J.K. Rowling off of this list.
  • Philip Pullman See? I told you there would be overlap with my favorite books. Of course I put him on this list because of His Dark Materials -and the related books, especially Once Upon a Time in the North. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I’ve read some of his other stuff, like Clockwork, which is great, and The Tin Princess, although that’s odd for me because it’s the fourth Sally Lockhart book, but I haven’t read the others. (I never start in the middle of a series!)
  • Holly Black I haven’t read every single thing she’s written, and while some of it doesn’t interest me (Curse Workers?) and some of it didn’t do it for me (Valiant, oops), I loved Tithe when I was a teenager and I loved Doll Bones as an adult, and I can’t wait to read The Darkest Part of the Forest. I credit Holly Black with introducing me to urban fantasy, which was, like, totally mind blowing to me at the time.
  • Heaven EyesNeil Gaiman Again, I haven’t read everything, but what I’ve read, I’ve really liked, for the most part. (I did not particularly care for American Gods.) Good Omens? I loved it, and I’ve read it a bunch of times. Fortunately, The Milk? I read this no less than ten times out loud to my students (five grades, two classes per grade, once for myself, twice for book club) and it never got any less funny. Anansi Boys? I haven’t read it in ages, but I remember that I really liked it.
  • David Almond I remember there was a time when I read any David Almond books that I could get my hands on. There weren’t many then; my local library had Skellig,Kit’s Wildnerness, and my favorite, Heaven Eyes. Something about them, especially Heaven Eyes, really spoke to me. I remember reading about Erin and January drinking “pilfered sherry,” and knowing, somehow, that this book was going to matter to me.
  • Jacqueline Wilson Unlike the other authors on this list, I didn’t discover Jacqueline Wilson until adulthood, although she writes books for children. I picked up her The Lottie Project after making a display of the original, ugly old cover and the new and improved cover to make a point about not judging books by their covers. Then I read Hetty Feather because I liked the cover of Sapphire Battersea (never read out of order!) and omg it was so good. I went on to tear through a whole bunch of her stuff – Lily AloneMidnightSecrets, and a few others – and I was just as excited as my students when we got our library copy of Opal Plumstead.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir ChronicleCLAMP Hey, mangaka are still authors! CLAMP wrote the first ever manga I read, Wish, and my favorite ever manga, TSUBASA: RESERvoir CHRoNiCLE, and many, many other manga that I’ve loved and made part of my personal mythology: CardCaptor SakuraTokyo BabylonX. They’re also probably responsible for my weird thing about characters who have something wrong with their eyes. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye, and then it’s a pairing!”)
  • Kazuya Minekura Another mangaka for this list. I’m not as familiar with her work, and I haven’t read everything like I have with CLAMP, but not only do I really love Saiyuki, I have a special place for it in my heart because I have so many fond memories of fangirling about it with so many of my friends. Her Wild Adapter was something else, too, and the full color Stigma that I found for ¥105 remains one of my best Book•Off finds ever.
  • Brian Jacques Except for maybe American Girl or Goosebumps, Brian Jacques’s Redwallwas the first series that I read everything – and I mean everything. I read the whole series in publication order, and then again in chronological order. My bff Mousey became “Mousey” (and eventually, “Mousey”) because of this series. I made all of my first online friends through Redwallforums. I tried to read Castaways of the Flying Duchman, but I just couldn’t do it for some reason. Still, I owe Brian Jacques so much for my reading life that he deserves a spot on this list.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien I guess you probably saw this coming? I did mention a lot of overlap with my favorite books. I’ve been reading Tolkien for over ten years, and you know what? it never gets less good. Sometimes, I reread certain things and cringe, but no. The Lord of the Rings is still a masterpiece, and I recently (last year) read The Silmarillion for the first time and guess what? it was great, too! Tolkien was a formative reading experience for me, and a community touchstone for nerds.