Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Last Girlfriend on Earth

Title: The Last Girlfriend on Earth
Author: Simon Rich
Genres: Short stories, humor, books on TV

I checked out this book after watching an episode of ManSeeking Woman. It’s a show where modern dating rules, anxieties,  and conundrums are mixed with the absurd. For example, in the episode I watched, one of the main characters dates Santa Claus. This is not seen as ridiculous because everyone believes in Santa Claus, he is a real person but it is scandalous- Santa is married, after all. Other short stories were about a man who is engaged to Mother Teresa, a Jewish man whose ex-girlfriend is dating Adolf Hitler, and the title story about a man who is dating the last woman alive on Earth. 

 I normally don’t read short stories because a lot of short stories leave a lot to be desired in my opinion or they end on a cliffhanger. The short stories in The Last Girlfriend on Earth are mostly satisfying, snarky, and funny. There were a few that left me with a Huh? feeling but I enjoyed most of the stories within the book. I will be adding Simon Rich's other works to my "to-be-read" pile. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Title: Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
Editor: James Lowder
Genre: non-fiction, literary criticism, Game of Thrones, fantasy

I've been addicted to Games of Thrones ever since Jamie pushed Bran out the window in Episode 1; that's when I knew this was a show that wasn't going to follow the rules. I started reading the books and soon found out that Martin doesn't follow the rules of writing either. His characters aren't strictly good or evil, the good guy (or gal) doesn't survive every encounter, and children or harmed or killed...

While I'm waiting for Game of Thrones to return on July 16, I discovered this book to help tide me over until the winds of winter come howling onto my TV screen (see what I did there?). Beyond the Wall is a literary, mostly non-stuffy critique on some of the recurring themes on the show and in the books: power, gender roles, violence, magic, identity, etc.

Gary Westfahl in "Back to the Egg" explores why fantasy authors write prequels or side stories to supplement their already grandiose epics. This is something that GRRM fans have a love/hate relationship with. We want more writing from GRRM but the writing that is being released is not the writing we want (Hint: It's called The Winds of Winter. How many more years will you keep us waiting, George?).

In "Art Imitates War" (one of my favorite chapters), Myke Cole praises GRRM for his authentic portrayal of PTSD within the world of Westeros: "He got an essential and often missed aspect of PTSD exactly right: sometimes traumatic experiences profoundly damage a character, but sometimes they enfranchise and strengthen the sufferer" (74). Case in point? Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy. They both experience massive trauma due to events surrounding them; Arya uses her trauma to survive and to channel her rage into assassin skills. Theon succumbs mentally to his trauma and becomes a shell of a human being.

Susan Vaught examines the moral ambiguity in the show and series. Much like our world, Westeros is not completely black or white but full of murky and questionable gray areas. Behaviors that are abhorrent, sinful and taboo in our world are mildly scandalous in Westeros (incest). Succumbing to personal desires instead of behaving in a manner that benefits the group or community is one of the top sins in Westeros (Robb Stark learned this the hard way).

"A Different Kind of Other" examines the role of "outsider" status in Westeros. While most books and TV shows present freaks/outsiders as morally upright and virtuous, or as a poor male seeking to restore himself to a position of power, Martin give his "outsider" characters more depth. Bran is a typical rambunctious boy until he becomes disabled; Samwell Tarly is overweight and non-violent to the despair of his father; Brienne trains as a knight even though she is a woman (she is also an ugly woman which is offensive to some of the male characters in the series). "They're disappointments, even freaks, to their families and cultures" (159). Unfortunately, not all outsiders are kind in this world (Varys, Tyrion). "Outcasts pay keen attention to rules, precisely so they can manipulate them in order to give themselves a fighting chance. They also keep an eye on other outsiders as they can often be valuable allies" (162).

The only chapter that I didn't enjoy in this book was about book collecting and book collecting statistics. It was boring to me and seemed out of place with the rest of the semi-academic chapters.

Winter is Coming

Friday, February 17, 2017

How Harry Cast His Spell

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Title: How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J.K. Rowling's Bestselling Books
Author: John Granger
Genre: non-fiction, Christian non-fiction

I checked this out at the academic library where I work. I was intrigued that an author that was publishing a pro-Harry book would be published by an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers. Unless you have been living under a rock the past decade or so, you have heard about the concerns and controversy of Harry Potter by some adults, mostly because of the witch and wizard characters. Granger wrote this book mostly for them. When these concerned adults fixated on the witches, wizards, and (fake) spells (if they bothered to read the books in the first place), they missed the Christian symbolism in the books. If you're thinking, "What Christian symbolism?",  than you need to read this book too!

So what are the Christian symbols used in the Harry Potter series? Here are a few examples (I can't tell you all of them, you have to read the book for yourself!):
* the "mascot" of Gryffindor house is a red lion. A lion has been used as a symbol of God in the Bible and throughout English literature (i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia) (pages 19, 106-107).
* the phoenix was a symbol of Christ during the Middle Ages- hence the nickname of "The Resurrection Bird. "The phoenix here, of course, portrays not only the Resurrection of Christ but also the Christian belief that he has intervened for humanity and taken the curse of death upon himself" (102).
*One person, two natures symbolism (concept comes from the Bible) (Chapter 5)

Rowling also uses alchemical symbolism throughout the series to chronicle Harry's journey from boy to man, non-believer of magic to wizard. While we view alchemy today as a pseudoscience where medieval scientists labored in vain to turn objects into gold, in the world of literature, alchemy "can simply be defined as the transformation of something common into something special" (50). So alchemical "writing techniques" are used to highlight the conflict/journey/resolution of a character and they are used to edify the personal life and beliefs of the reader (page 31).

Other positive aspects of the HP series that Granger critiques are the Hero's Journey formula used within each book (Chapter 3), the emphasis on choice and free will (page 86), the dangers of prejudice (Chapter 6), the parallels of Harry's life to King Arthur (page 86), and the spiritual themes of each book (Chapters 11-17).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blog Spotlight

Instead of reviewing a book today, I want to spotlight two blogs that belong to friends/coworkers of mine.
  Charley Bears Does Life is an adorable blog written by Charley (with help from his mom). Charley is new to the blogosphere and will chronicle his life with his fur-sister Sky and his human parents. I look forward to reading about his doggie delights and adventures!

Photo courtesy of Charley and his mom is owned by C. Neil Davenport, an aspiring writer, photographer, actor, and film maker who wants to change the world through the art of film. I look forward to reading (and watching) Neil's journey too.

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Photo courtesy of C. Neil Davenport

Saturday, January 7, 2017

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Title: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace
Author(s): Gary Chapman and Paul White
Genre: non-fiction, leadership, management, work relationships, personality, work issues

This book was recommended reading in one of the librarian Facebook groups I belong to. I decided to read it since I enter a mid-level management position back in July and I co-supervise a staff of 11 who have myriad personalities, ages, and cultural backgrounds. Gary Chapman is most famous for his series of books about The Five Love Languages (a book I make sure to gift to newly married couples). The Five Love Languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Tangible Gifts. The Love Languages series has focused on love languages between spouses and between parents and children; it was interesting to see how these languages are used and viewed in a workplace setting. As in his other Languages books, Chapman is concise in his writing style and real- world examples are used to drive home the points made in this book.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Title: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Genre: non-fiction, humor, memoir

I am in the (slow) process of writing a book about my adventures in Library Land. I know what you're thinking: "How can she write a book about shushing people all day." Contrary to popular belief, not all library users treat libraries as the sacred spaces they are. Libraries like all public institutions have to deal with the public, and anyone who works with the public knows that a lot of the public are crazy, irrational, mentally ill, etc. Some library situations are frustrating, others are eyebrow-raising, and most are hilarious.

I attended a writing workshop a few months ago. I sat amongst my peers at the Creative Nonfiction table and we all took turns describing our ideas. My tablemates had great ideas. Serious ideas. Sex trafficking. Horses as therapy animals for autistic children. Miscarriage. Then it was my turn. "I want to write a book about my adventures working in a library and I want it have a funny and snarky vibe." Upon seeing the baffled looks, I started telling them my stories- the funny ones- and they loved it! Now I just have to find the time... The table leader suggested that I read David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day to get a feel for writing in a humorous style. This was a homework assignment I enjoyed. Mr. Sedaris writes short essays about his crazy family (comedienne Amy Sedaris is his sister), his childhood in North Carolina, his adventures living in NYC, and his misadventures learning French and living in France. Some stories made me chuckle and others had me laughing out loud.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Title: Wreck the Halls: Cake Wrecks Gets "Festive"
Author: Jen Yates
Genre: humor, non-fiction

I don't remember how I stumbled upon Jen Yates' blog, Cake Wrecks, but I always find her blog post hilarious and entertaining. By now you are probably wondering what exactly is a Cake Wreck? According to the blog's site: "A Cake Wreck is any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate - you name it. A Wreck is not necessarily a poorly-made cake; it's simply one I find funny, for any of a number of reasons. Anyone who has ever smeared frosting on a baked good has made a Wreck at one time or another, so I'm not here to vilify decorators: Cake Wrecks is just about finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places." Cake Wrecks only make fun of professionally decorated cakes and when you check out the cakes on her blog you'll wonder how some of these professional cake decorators were able to land and/or keep their jobs. On Sundays, Jen posts her weekly "Sunday Sweets" post which are themed cakes that are absolute perfection.

Wreck the Halls is Jen Yates' second book; it's a quick and hilarious read that is perfect for sharing holiday cheer with others. The pictures of these cakes are horrible on their own but the captions and snarky comments take them to a whole new level of hilarity. After reading her blog and two books, you will never look at cake the same way again.