Saturday, February 28, 2009

Weebeasts: Plight & Weebeastology by Micah Linton

I'm not usually one to review picture books for kids, but when Micah Linton asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Plight, the second book in his Weebeasts series, I had to say yes. If his books imitated the free spirit of the website, I was sure I'd enjoy them.

I wasn't disappointed. This is a beautiful book.

The story itself is simple--the Weebeasts have been bullying (and enslaving) their neighbors, and when their neighbors fight back, the Weebeasts are driven out and forced to search for another home. Along the way, they learn to engineer things and to be more self-sufficient, and just as important, they don't give up their search. In the end, they meet another creature whose help they have to take to find a home, which I assume isn't something they would have done in their old home.

At first, I wished for an individual to follow through the story, rather than following a whole group, but I realized that's something I look for as an adult; it wouldn't have bothered me as a kid not to have one main character. The quest of the group is more important than any one character.

The day after
Plight arrived, I received another box--this one containing Weebeastology and a Weebeast toy.* Weebeastology contains illustrations of Weebeasts and their adventures, some from the books and some not.** I'm undecided as to whether I prefer the wordless books or the book with a story; I like the idea of making up your own story to go with Linton's illustrations.

My husband suggested I send Weebeasts to my sister and niece to enjoy, but I like the idea of having it to read to our own kids someday, so I'm going to hold onto them. And if we do have those kids, I'll be looking for the rest of the Weebeasts series to add to the kids' book collection.
At the moment, Linton has planned seven books, but may have more. Since the Weebeasts' history parallels much of humanity's, Linton says, "it will be fun to explore new paths" for their stories, and he suggests that one story will reveal how Weebeasts "evolve into elves of folklore." (
I'm really looking forward to that one.)

*You can see pictures at Reading Rumpus, who received the same package--and is giving hers away.

**Unfortunately, some of the artwork in
Weebeastology gets lost in the crease.

Many thanks to Micah Linton for sending me this wonderful set.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Complexity of Night Writing Challenge Update (February)

I'm at a mere 1300 words this month--the end of the month crept up on me. Again. And again, I wrote a couple of character sketches. The first was about a dancer who had been scarred in a car crash and after plastic surgery, she no longer looks like herself. The second is a little stranger. At first, it was about a young woman who's gotten a little lost in life, but now it seems that this is really more about her mother than her.

After the Fire by Robin Gaby Fisher

After the Fire is the recovery story of two college boys who were badly burned in a dormitory fire January 19, 2000.

This book must have been complicated and difficult to write, considering the subject matter, but I feel that the author tried to simplify it for her readers, which resulted in a book that read like a very long Reader's Digest story, reinforcing every positive angle (the unfalteringness of the parents' faith, burn ward staff dedication, the boys' determination, etc.) in every chapter.

Personally, I was expecting something more complex. The people portrayed in this book had very minor flaws, if any, and nearly all negativity was filtered out, which made it seem a bit less true.

So, if you like--or at least don't mind--Reader's Digest-style stories, this might be right up your alley.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

College Girl by Patricia Weitz

Here's the premise of College Girl: Natalie is a college senior majoring in Russian history. She supposes she's fairly attractive. She's never had a boyfriend and is more than a little obsessed with the fact that she's a virgin. She feels like the only 20-year-old on campus who still is.

There you go. That's about it. You can probably guess what happens, but just to be clear: She hooks up with this cute guy who seems to be into her. At first. And she completely loses track of her sense of self. Not that she has much sense of self, outside of her awareness of being perceived as a studious introvert--when she thinks she's perceived at all.

I felt I should've been able to connect more with Natalie's character--my 20-year-old self and Natalie had quite a bit in common on the surface--but from the beginning, she was a character I didn't especially feel sympathy for or empathize with. Her perception of what her college experience should be is nothing I recognized of my own 20-year-old self's expectations. (In college, I never smoked anything and never got soused, and I was never especially tempted to.)

In the end, though, it comes down to this: Natalie has no confidence and does too much navel-gazing, mistaking it for reflection. The extent of her navel-gazing gets in the way of other characters' development, which results in mostly static characters throughout.

And then there's the issue of plot. There's only one. Potential sub-plots were quashed as the book progressed, and it all boiled down to the cute guy and sex, no matter how detrimental the relationship became. (The lack of plot did make this book a very quick read.)

Natalie reminds me a little bit of Bee at the end of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, after Bee has slept with the college-bound soccer guy and becomes a lost shell of a person and spends the whole second book trying to reclaim her self.

I appreciate what I think Weitz tried to create, but in the end the story comes up short. I'm sorry to say that I can't recommend this book; there are far better books to spend your time with. (Of which The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is just one.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

books with sticking power

So you know how you can really like a book but three years later you can barely remember even the basic plot, let alone details? And then you know how there are some books that you find yourself thinking of, years later, when you're on the bus or driving to work or waiting in line at the grocery store?

I've been looking at the books on my shelves & considering which books I've read and how much I remember of them. I've also been regretting the decision to leave some books in their boxes back in Ohio till I can get back to reclaim them. I thought I'd share some of the books that fall into the latter category as they come to me, and though I'd planned to just post a list of ten or so titles, I want to write about more than that. Conveniently, this will also allow me to post more often than reviewing my current reads alone. (I don't seem to read nearly as quickly as I used to. Maybe the internet is destroying my attention span.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry

I think Rock Salt may be the best poetry anthology I’ve read (and having been an English teacher, I’ve read a few).

My Rock Salt is all tabbed with various Post-It flags, most of them to bring me back to poems that I want to revisit, either because I liked them or I wasn’t sure if I liked them. I also tabbed quite a few of the poets’ statements, which can be pretty dry (why I became a poet, yada yada yada), but then there are a few gems that make reading the statements worthwhile. To name one, Ed Varney’s poet’s statement is a list of what poetry is not (“Poetry is not song, no rhymes, not versification, not poesy, not linguistic gymnastics, not language cleansed and purified, not a lyrical expression of what’s bothering you...”). I also found Eve Joseph's first : “Poetry is smarter than I am; it knows things before I do and pays attention where I am oblivious.” (I feel that way about writing in general, but it makes particular sense with poetry.)

My least favorite poems tend to be political poems, because they often feel petty and ignorant. I barely glanced at one poem because the poet’s statement said, “Because the US—and US capitalism—are presently the dominant, brutal, imperialist forces most perverting Canadian democracy, justice, freedom and love of the Good, I must write about US Capitalist Imperialism,” and that rankled me all the way to my (oh-so-American) toenails because that declaration seemed so thoughtless and media-fed, and though I’m sure he was certain that his statement looked educated and bold, I couldn’t take his perspectives about anything seriously after that.

I prefer narrative poetry, poetry full of imagery, and I enjoy poetry that sits prettily on a page (even if I don’t understand it)—poetry that sticks with me, like “Avatar” by Iain Higgins, with lines like, “… He spoke / his love in a language of consonants like fishbones / in a slit throat…” and from “The Unremembered” by Peter Levitt, “There is no way to put it back together, / there is nothing to put, no back, / and together is a close approximation, / a flash of what only seemed.”

“Fixer-Uppers” by Sean Horlor is a delightful poem about relationships (presumably failed) that starts:

They all said there’s something you should know
About me they all asked why
Haven’t I met someone like you
Before they all said yes they all said please

The lines continue to run into each other, blurring and becoming more dizzying, both humorous and a little pathetic in regards to how it portrays relationships.

There are so many more I want to share, but instead I can only recommend that you seek it out yourself. I am very glad to have this poetry anthology on my shelves.

The cover painting is "The Poet and The Musicians" by Diana Dean, a Salt Spring artist, oil on canvas.
Many thanks to those at Mother Tongue Press for sending me a review copy.

Shift by Charlotte Agell

Adrian lives in a society ruled by religious zealots, and they insist the apocalypse will be any day now. Could they be right? Check out my review of at Shift The Well-Read Child!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Romantic quotes (I'm giving in to sappy sentimentality)

I am a sucker for romance (not the bodice-ripping kind), so when I saw the bookworm's post inviting people to play along, I just had to.*

Naida specifically asks for movie quotes, but I'm going to throw in a favorite book quote, too. And a TV show quote. And some of them don't have much to do with romance in context, but out of context...

Still sometimes, when the air is warm or the crickets sing, I dream of a love that even time would lie down and be still for.
(Practical Magic, the film--I didn't see this in the book, and I was looking for it. Did I miss it?)

It is the broken heart that makes us human in the end.
(Iona Moon by Melanie Rae Thon)

You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.
Gone with the Wind. I have this one I have in common with Naida.)

There are too many mediocre things in life to deal with and love shouldn't be one of them.
(Dream for an Insomniac)

Anything less than mad, passionate, extraordinary love is a waste of your time.
(also Dream for an Insomniac)

Pathetic? To die for love? How can you say so? What could be more glorious?
(Sense & Sensibility)

This thing that we call a wedding ceremony is really the final scene of the fairy tale. They never tell you what happens after. They never tell you that Cinderella drove the Prince crazy with her obsessive need to clean the castle, cause she missed her day job, right?
The Mirror Has Two Faces)

Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.
The Princess Bride)

There are no happy endings because nothing ever ends.
(The Last Unicorn. This one also isn't in the book.)

I even hate this letter because it's not the whole truth. Because the whole truth is so much more than a letter can even say. If you want to hate me, go ahead. If you want to burn this letter, do it. You could burn the whole world down; you could tell me to go to hell. I'd go, if you wanted me to. And I'd send you a letter from there. (My So-Called Life)

Anna: It feels like how being in love should be. Floating through a dark blue sky.
William: With a goat playing the violin.
Anna: Yes - happiness isn't happiness without a violin-playing goat.
(Notting Hill)

*When I was a teacher, I used to put all these quotes from books and movies and other famous people all over the wall for Valentine's Day. My students loved it because they could get up and walk around the room reading them, and there were so many! It took me 3 to 5 hours to put them all up, and I always did it in one evening. Unfortunately, those quotes are in a file in Ohio yet; I thought about giving them to another teacher I know, but I couldn't part with them--I'd been adding to the collection since I was a student teacher.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My niece Ella

Head over to my sister's family blog to see a little video of my four-month-old niece reading with her mom. Ella takes charge by turning the pages.

*Sigh* They're sitting in the green recliner that used to be mine. I miss that chair. So comfy. (I just couldn't justify trying to bring it to Canada with me. And it's not like we have room for it now--just wait till you see my reading/blogging space.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Book of Vice by Peter Sagal

When I was in college, a friend found out that I'd never seen a porno, and I was promptly invited to her porno party--which she'd been convinced to throw because she'd never seen one, either. I went, and I wrote about the experience (which I won't describe here) for my weekly column in the college paper.

Then, when I was in grad school, a stranger at the local Barnes & Noble Starbucks struck up a conversation with me that somehow ended in an invitation to a fetish ball. (It wasn't a date invitation, just a suggestion that he'd be ever so happy to run into me there.) I obsessed about that invitation for a week; I was extremely curious as to what a fetish party would be like. In the end, I decided that such an experience likely wouldn't be worth the discomfort of being so far outside my comfort zone--and I couldn't think of anyone to go with me who I'd trust in that kind of situation, anyway.

The Book of Vice explores both porn and fetishes as human vices. Peter Sagal wasn't so quite so shy. He went to a fetish club and a porn set to research for this book. The other vices he explores--consumption, food, gambling, swinging, lying & strip clubs--are also personally explored by visiting a swingers' club (with his wife, but strictly as observers), interviewing strippers, spending nearly $1000 on a food experience, and visiting Vegas and talking to professional gamblers.

Alcohol, smoking and drugs were not discussed because Sagal felt there was an element of addiction that overrode their vice qualities. Funny, I thought porn and gambling were addictive, too. I guess drawing the line between physical and psychological dependencies.

Sagal uses a combinationof expository and narrative in each chapter, which generally worked very well with his conversational style. He does have a tendency to drag every now and then--I was tired of gambling, strip clubs and porn about halfway through those chapters, even though the second halves were always as equally interesting as the first.

My favorite chapter was the one on eating--the descriptions were fun, though it quashed any desire to experience a 26-course $1000 "meal" that involved inhaling shrimp cocktail through an atomizer or eating little frozen pureed vegetable cubes. (In the end, all Sagal and his wife Beth really wanted was something satisfying--like a fast food burger.)

I wonder how a woman writing this book would have changed it. Would she have reached different conclusions about why some men are drawn to strip clubs? Would she have even covered the same vices? Would she have explored why there are so many sexual vices? (About half of the vices in this book are sexual.)

I can't say I would highly recommend this book. It's just a little too slow, a little too purposeless to be highly recommended. (But I would like to see that ghostwritten memoir he mentions in the porn chapter rewritten and published as a fictional memoir.) This will probably hold the most interest for people who really liked their pop culture, or maybe sociology, classes in college.

Thanks to Jennifer at The Literate Housewife Review for sending me this book!