Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Friday, June 30, 2017

Books read in June 2017


1. Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
2. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah


1. Divided in Death
2. Visions in Death

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Books read in May 2017


1. The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed by Julie Barlow & Jean-Benoît Nadeau
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed
3. The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories by Michael Smith
4. What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri, MD


1. Remember When

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Books read in April 2017


1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
2. Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb
3. Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness by Shawn Micallef
4. Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb
5. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny


1. Imitation in Death

Friday, March 31, 2017

Books read in March 2017


1. We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
3. Northern Lights against POPs: Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic edited by David Leonard Downie and Terry Fenge
4. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
5. Wenjack by Joseph Boyden


1. Portrait in Death

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Books read in February 2017


1. Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
2. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
3. Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette


1. Reunion in Death
2. Purity in Death
3. Brotherhood in Death

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Books read in January 2017


1. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
2. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
3. A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh
4. The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
5. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and David Shannon 
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin 
7. Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence


1. Witness in Death
2. Judgment in Death
3. Betrayal in Death
4. Interlude in Death
5. Seduction in Death

Monday, January 02, 2017

Girl colours and boy colours

I currently have four baby cousins: three boys and one girl. (They aren't all so much babies - the oldest one is 3 - but old nomenclature dies hard.  And it's not like they can read this blog to complain that I'm referring to them as babies.) I bought xmas gifts for all of them (I don't celebrate xmas myself, but my family does and it's an awesome excuse to look through all the adorable children's books at Mabel's Fables), and since all the gifts would be going under the same tree I put gift tags on them.

I managed to find a package of non-xmas-themed gift tags in all different colours, one of which is pink.  So I put the pink tag on the girl's gift.  Because pink is for girls.

Of course, I myself don't actually think pink is exclusively for girls and not for boys at all.  If any of my male baby cousins expressed interest in pink things or things that are culturally marked as for girls, I'd be the first to make sure he had all the girly things he wanted. 

But, because on a broader cultural level pink has connotations as "for girls", some boys might not like it.  Some boys might find it insulting to be given the pink thing. It might be problematic to give one brother pink and the other brother a colour without gender connotations. (The inverse is true too - I remember once feeling very humiliated and insecure in my femininity when my sister got a Judy Jetson toy and I was given smelly old George Jetson.)

If I had multiple pink tags, I wouldn't hesitate to give every child a pink tag. But I only had the one, and I only ever use gift tags for the baby cousins, so the one pink gift tag went to the one girl.

And so, out of consideration for connotations that these small children may or may not have yet picked up from the prevailing culture, gender stereotypes of colours are perpetuated for another generation.


Another similar issue is that I'm very mindful of making sure the boys get books with male protagonists (insofar as the books have protagonists and the protagonists have gender - with children this young, sometimes the books are about animals or shapes or colours, and sometimes they don't have enough of a plot to have a protagonist), but I don't put the same thought into making sure the girl gets books with female protagonists.  This is because I have the idea, absorbed from the ether, that boy are more likely to be reluctant readers, and that boys are more likely to be disinclined to read books with female protagonists. 

In real life, none of these kids are reluctant readers, simply because they're too young for anyone to make that determination.  In real life, I'm not even sure to what extent children that age do or don't perceive gender.  But, nevertheless, I've decided to pre-emptively address this Thing That People On The Internet Say Might Happen, and, as a result, might be perpetuating the stereotype that books about girls aren't for boys.

Part of it is the fact that I can testify from my own first-hand experience that even a girly girl whose gender identity and expression is wholly feminine can totally enjoy books about a male protagonist, and therefore would feel confident in getting a girl a book with a male protagonist.  But I have heard anecdotes of boys being disinclined to read female protagonists, and I only have a self righteous "Well, it shouldn't make any difference!" to counter that.  (I don't actually know whether my male baby cousins as individuals care about the genders of their protagonists - I'm never able to have as comprehensive a conversation with their parents as I'd like because we keep getting interrupted by the presence of babies and toddlers.)

But ultimately, I think it's more important (in terms of both gift-giving and child development) to maximize the likelihood that the kidlets will enjoy the books put in front of them. And so I resort to gender stereotypes unless I have further specific information.

I kind of wish I could switch off that portion of my knowledge of self and culture, and choose books cheerfully unaware of what gender (and other) stereotypes might exist and need to be addressed.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books read in December 2016


1. Birdie by Tracie Lindberg
2. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
3. The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
4. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection edited by Hope Nicholson
5. The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head Is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
6. Belgravia by Julian Fellowes


1. Midnight in Death
2. Conspiracy in Death
3. Loyalty in Death

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Books read in November 2016


1. The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon
2. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton


1. Holiday in Death 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Books read in October 2016


1. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
2. Down The Rabbit Hole (anthology) by Robb, Blayney, Fox, McComas and Ryan
3. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin


1. Ceremony in Death
2. Vengeance in Death

Friday, September 30, 2016

Books read in September 2016


1. The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Paynter
2. Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film by Glenn Kurtz
3. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
4. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany


1. Glory in Death
2. Immortal in Death
3. Rapture in Death

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books read in August 2016


1. Devoted in Death
2. Wonderment in Death
3. Brotherhood in Death
4. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
5. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
6. Citizen: Am American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 


1. Obsession in Death
2. Naked in Death

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books read in July 2016


1. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
2. The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time by Jonathan Kozol
3. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
4. Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea by Jang Jin-sung, translated by Shirley Lee


1. Calculated in Death
2. Thankless in Death
3. Taken in Death
4. Concealed in Death
5. Festive in Death

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Books read in June 2016


1. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers
2. Not in Front of the Corgis: Secrets of Life Behind the Royal Curtains by Brian Hoey
3. Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Brockmole, Gaynor, Holland, Jefferson, Kerrigan, Robson, Williams, Willig and Webb
4. Le Capital au XXIe siècle by Thomas Piketty


1. New York to Dallas
2. Chaos in Death
3. Celebrity in Death
4. Delusion in Death

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Books read in May 2016


1. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
2. Downton Abbey: Rules for Household Staff by "Mr. Carson"
3. King Maybe by Timothy Hallihan


1. Fantasy in Death
2. Indulgence in Death
3. Possession in Death
4. Treachery in Death

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Books read in April 2016


1. Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson
2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
3. Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton
4. Purity by Jonathan Franzen


1. Salvation in Death
2. Ritual in Death
3. Promises in Death
4. Kindred in Death
5. Missing in Death

Monday, April 11, 2016

Things They Should Make Far Easier For Me To Find: humorous children's books from other languages and cultures

My fairy goddaughter (currently 4 years old) has a fantastic sense of humour! When she was 1.5 years old, she glommed right onto Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and it's only gotten better from there.

She recently announced that she wants to learn French, so I was looking for age-appropriate French reading material, ideally with some element of humour.  However, what kept falling into my hands most readily was French translations of Dr. Seuss or Robert Munsch - French translations of humorous stories originally written in English. Surely comparable humorous children's stories have been written in French, but the arrangement of brick-and-mortar and online bookstores is such that it's not as easy for me to find them.  (I think I found one, but after further googling I'm beginning to suspect that the French name featured prominently on the cover of the book was that of the illustrator, and the book was really written originally in English.)

During previous book shopping trips for my fairy goddaughter and my baby cousins, I've noticed displays featuring stories from other cultures. (I didn't bother to check if they were translations of existing stories from other cultures, or stories written in English that are set in other cultures.)  I gravitated towards these displays because I like the idea of introducing other cultures and to the notion that there's an unimaginably massive range of people and ways of life in the world, but I was disappointed to find that all the multicultural stories were serious.  They were stories with A Moral, or they were so focused on portraying the beauty and dignity of the culture that they were verging on the Noble Savage archetype. Serious stories have their place, of course, but the current combination of personalities, relationships and developmental stages puts us more in the market for fun and humour at the moment, and I don't see why that should be incompatible with exposing the younglings to the fact of other cultures.

Other languages and other cultures must have their own humorous children's stories. I wish the curation of bookstores made these fall into my hands as easily as humorous English-language children's stories.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Books read in March 2016


1. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
2. Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe
3. Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry by Paul Goldberger
4. Underground in Berlin by Marie Jalowicz Simon, translated by Anthea Bell 
5. Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay 
6. Downton Abbey: A Celebration by Jessica Fellowes 


1. Innocent in Death
2. Eternity in Death
3. Creation in Death
4. Strangers in Death

Monday, February 29, 2016

Books read in February 2016


1. Get Onboard: Walk in the Shoes of a Transit Operator by Richard Lee
2. Herbie's Game by Timothy Hallinan


1. Memory in Death
2. Haunted in Death
3. Concealed in Death
4. Born in Death

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Go Set a Watchman braindump

This post is a full spoiler zone for Go Set a Watchman.

1. It's quite obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book in its current form to be published after To Kill a Mockingbird, because Henry Clinton wasn't in Mockingbird. (There's a "Henry" in Scout's class, but we know that Henry Clinton is several years older than her so he wouldn't have been in her class.)  If you already know that your child-protagonist's future love interest grew up in the neighbourhood and went to the same schools, why wouldn't you give him a quick cameo - just a named extra in a crowd scene? It's a quick and easy Sirius Black moment.

2. Another reason why it's obvious that Harper Lee did not intend this book to be published in its current form after Mockingbird is that the description of Tom Robinson's trial is different in Watchman. In Watchman, the defendant was acquitted. In Mockingbird, he was found guilty.

3. But, since Mockingbird was written second, the change in outcome of the trial supports my theory that Atticus didn't actually give Tom Robinson a full and proper defence.  Which is exactly what he explicitly says he wants to do with Calpurnia's grandson as well!

4. I don't understand why Scout went to visit Calpurnia and told her that Atticus would do everything to help her grandson when she knew full well he wouldn't.  She could have warned Calpurnia about Atticus's plans. She could have not mentioned anything about the quality of defence he'd receive from Atticus. She could have not visited Calpurnia at all.  Why did she choose instead to visit and falsely reassure?

5. In my Mockingbird post, I theorized that Scout could grow into someone who is (or is perceived to be) racist in her old age. After Watchman, I still don't feel like we know enough to argue for or against that outcome. But if I were to start collecting evidence that could be used to argue that Scout is racist, I would include that conversation with Calpurnia, along with Scout's assumption that the dialect Calpurnia speaks in the black community isn't her natural dialect while the dialect she speaks when raising her white employer's children is.

6. The most interesting story alluded to in this book isn't told at all: it's the story of the impact of the Second World War. Dill is in Italy!  If you look at it from the universe of Mockingbird, that's unimaginable!  What's he doing there? What's his life like? But in Watchman, it's just mentioned in passing and wouldn't even be mentionable if Mockingbird didn't exist.

7. (If Mockingbird had in fact been written with the intention of publishing it and then publishing Watchman, I suspect the characters of Dill and Henry would have been merged into one. Henry is or can easily be presented as enough of an outsider to fulfill the role of Dill in Mockingbird. We would then have been shown rather than told Henry's and Scout's long-standing attachment, and we'd also better grok Aunt Alexandra's objection to him as marriage material because we remember that grubby kid from Mockingbird.)

8. The other interesting story that isn't told is Scout's everyday life in New York. The book mentions (about 100 pages after I started wondering) that Scout went to college and then went to New York, where she's been living for five years.  It doesn't mention what she does for a living.  (If I had to guess a Generic Job That's Not Interesting Enough To Mention for a woman in her era and circumstances it would have been some kind of typing job, but the book specifically mentions that she can't use a typerwriter.) It doesn't mention where she lives or what her day-to-day life is like.  It doesn't get into how she found adapting to the city after growing up in such a ridiculously small town. That would be interesting!  I would totally read The Adventures of Scout in New York City! But the book doesn't even touch on it.

9. I haven't looked into whether Mockingbird has a robust fanfiction community and I'm not sure that I want to have a fanfiction relationship with this universe, but the adventures of Dill in Italy and the adventures of Scout in New York would be excellent fodder for a skilled fanfic author who is loyal to the characters and the settings. (Or, like, for Harper Lee to write more books in this universe, but I suspect that's not something she'll be doing.)

10. Overall, in reading this book, a feeling I had all too often was "I don't get it".

Often what I didn't get was, as I mentioned in my previous posts, a result of my being too far removed from the culture in which the book was written.  There are things that feel like the author thinks they're meaningful, but are meaningless to me.

One important example not mentioned in my previous posts is the racist organization to which Atticus and Henry belong, which is called a "Citizens' Council".  Scout expresses shock that such a thing exists in Maycomb, then goes to the meeting and hears all kinds of vile racist rhetoric being spewed.

The problem for me as a reader is that "Citizens' Council" sounds like some kind of municipal volunteer organization that discusses the beautification of parks or something.  I was spoiled for the racist plotline so I was able to quickly put together what was going on, but if I hadn't been I wouldn't have understood Scout's shock at the organization's existence.  Then, when she attended the meeting, I would have concluded that the council had been taken over by some Rob Ford type and that the rest of the plotline would have to do with unseating him.  Then I would have been very confused for a very long time.

Googling "Citizens' Council" is actually informative - the very first result has the information you need - but if I hadn't known about this plotline in advance, it never would have even occurred to me from my seat in 21st-century Canada to look into the name of this seemingly clearly-named and innocuous-sounding organization for an explanation of why they're spewing racist rhetoric and why Scout seemed to see that coming.

11. Another thing I often didn't get was the then-current events being referred to.  In one case, a current event was described only with the name of the state (either Mississippi or Missouri).  And, since I don't know the exact year the book is set, it's not like I can just google "What was happening in Mississippi in the 1950s?"  There's a mention of a Supreme Court decision that's fairly key, and I could only figure out what the actual decision was by including "Go Set a Watchman" as a search keyword - there wasn't enough information to get there based on the text alone. The characters are talking like everyone knows what they're talking about, and I'm missing crucial information because I live in a different country and a different century.

12. But there were also non-cultural things I didn't get. I came away from the book feeling that I hadn't understood the whole story. So what does Scout end up doing in the long run? Does she stay with Henry or does she dump him? Was Atticus racist all along or did he become racist due to recent events? If so, which of the vaguely-alluded recent events triggered it?  I also felt like the book intended to have a moral of the story, but I wasn't able to determine what it was actually intended to be.

13. I think the cultural "I don't get it"s could be addressed with very minor editing. This is a book with multi-page "As you know..." conversations about US history. Surely it wouldn't be too arduous to slip in a few keywords here and there so 21st-century readers and their international readers (both of which they knew they would have, given that the book was published in 2015 as the sequel to a famous novel) could grasp the connotations just as easily as the author's contemporaries.  Since the drink "set-up" is mentioned in an explanation from the narrator to the reader about the drinking habits of the people of Maycomb, it wouldn't be at all incongruous for the narrator to slip in a few words explaining to the reader what a "set-up" actually is. The internet tells me that Citizens' Councils are also referred to as White Citizens' Councils, so it wouldn't be at all out of place to just slip the word "White" in there in the first occurrence to give those of us who aren't up on the subject matter a hint of why Scout might be shocked about it. The impenetrable references to then-current events could be also be made clear (or, at least, googleable) with a keyword to get us started.

14. As for the aspects of the plot resolution and moral that I felt I missed, normally I would assume it's because I'm not a sophisticated enough reader.  Despite being a voracious reader I've never been especially good at Literature, so I wouldn't be surprised if I missed the kind of stuff that people write papers about.  But what's relevant in the particular case of Watchman is that I didn't feel like I'd missed anything after reading Mockingbird.  Even though I did miss some stuff, as I discovered in my reread, I came away feeling that I had grasped as much of the plot resolution and the moral as the book intended me to.  And, frankly, it's only polite to make multiple books in a series equally accessible to the same set of readers.

15. While it is the author's prerogative to write the way she wants to without spelling everything out for outsiders, I think doing so here is a missed opportunity.  Given the cultural weight of Mockingbird, Watchman was going to reach a lot of people who are far enough removed from the culture in which it was written to not get it.  And, especially in light of some of the racial weirdness in the news lately, it has the potential to be particularly educational to those of us who don't get it.