Monday, June 27, 2016

The Cormier book I'd heard the most about

The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
Eugh.  Cormier makes me want to shower.  I bought or traded for a second-hand copy of this book because I hear and read about it all the time.  Plus I thought The Rag and Bone Shop was a profound discussion piece.  This is that again, but it's also so depressing! And with a generous smattering of alarming content.  Let's break this down;
  • The overall feeling I had upon finishing the book was mostly simply put: grim frustration.  In more detail: it was anger, sadness, irritation, respect, and fascination all at once.  I am so angry about how it ended and angry that things like (and worse than) this fiction are real.  I was sad for the characters -- and those in reality -- who face exclusion, peer pressure and darkness of this kind.  I was irritated by the stereotypes that pervaded the novel.  I was both irritated and filled with respect that the book is still relevant more than 40 years after it was written.  I am embarrassed to say that I was grossly fascinated to see what would happen and still fascinated when it closed by the darkness of sororities / secret societies.  I almost wanted to go googling.  I didn't. 
  • From an English teaching perspective, I think this book has a lot of mileage for discussion. I wouldn't want to discuss it with anyone but seniors, but I think talking about what is relevant and what would need updated for millennials is really interesting.  How would this play out in a school near them?  How would this play out in their idea of an American prep school now?   What updates would you make if you were asked to adapt a screenplay for a film to be released set now?  What is a comparative text from the past five years?  Which characters align with each other?  What did you want to happen?  Aaaaaah...I could talk about this for a long time with students.
  • The book has been controversial for many reasons.  I get all those.  In addition to blasphemy, smoking, violence, multiple crude references to masturbation and petting, there's an underlying suggestion that good does not always triumph over evil; that sometimes, life isn't like that.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  Because the thing is, sometimes this is true. Sometimes (oft-times) the jerks get away with their stuff and the good guys get hurt.  Oft-times school is hard for good guys.  There's a story there. But the book virtually glamourises YA mutiny!  What is more disturbing, is...
  • This book has stacks of sexist content.  It may have made waves in the 70s for being occasionally vulgar (it's as vulgar as Looking for Alaska -- which is on recommended reading lists I've seen for high-schoolers), but for our generation, forget the crude content, the sexist stuff is what would cause the real storm!  Not only are female characters virtually absent from the story, in their brief presentation they are 100% sexual objects.  This angered me on so many levels.  Whether this is Cormier's view or his subjective offering of his characters' male gaze -- either way it is so wrong.  I'm not denying there are disappointing views of women out there -- that perhaps I was being invited to step into the minds of young men who hold those disappointing views -- but there was nothing to suggest an alternative view.  The words "rape by eyeball" were used in this book.  The expression "boys will be boys" was used in this book.  A boy touches himself when he is looking at a girl.  Surely there is a way to reflect how some boys can be or how charged these years can be without saturating every female moment with objectification and all-out lust?  (Really, there aren't appreciative observations of beauty either, only ones that cross into lust territory.)  And if Cormier is saying that a prep school world is like this -- everything is about sex for these boys -- is it always so vulgar and out of the boys' control?  It was such an insulting view of young men.  Yes, saying women are only as interesting as how tight their sweaters are is disgusting, but so too is implying that there is no decency in a serious throng of representative male voices.  Having worked in all-boys school, I felt there was some authenticity in the crudeness here (oh, the ways many of my students found innuendo in the smallest thing I said), but not all boys are single-minded arousal-bots.  That's unfair.
  • The insight outside of the sexual into the young male mind was interesting.  For this, I prefer Schmidt of course.  So much.  But he doesn't cover secret societies, and...
  • The treatment of the secret society is imaginative and engrossing.  I was into these moments.
  • The multiple viewpoints work surprisingly well.
Gah.  This book.  It raises so many questions -- questions I'd like to raise with my daughters at the appropriate time.  But I'm hoping I find a better text as a springboard, because...holY(!)...insulting!  If you have read this book, I want to hear from you.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Last Weekend: Mid-winter Carnival and Maatariki

Yes, that is a lantern made OF A WHALE WITH A CITY ON ITS BACK! *gasp*  One of many beautiful creations on display during the Mid-winter Carnival Parade last weekend.
Looking out over Ivy and Esky's heads.
We go every year and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.  If you're from Dunedin and you have been meaning to go but never get to it: Please, please go one year.  
And if you are passing through ever near the Winter Solstice, be sure to add this to your itinerary!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mindy Kaling's Book

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling
This series of "essays" (this term is used very loosely, in this case) is exactly the kind of memoir I was hoping for from Kaling.  The final third was lacking the oomph of the first two thirds, but overall, it was the conversational disclosure that fit with the idea of Kaling I had in my mind.  A few other notes:

  • Mindy called the female cast Ghostbusters reboot four years before it happened.  That is impressive. 
  • She writes in hyperbole.  I get that.
  • There's some swearing.
  • Things I loved to learn about her: she is not a fan of roasts (same) and she is a fan of monogamy and marriage (same). 
  • I couldn't help but keep comparing this to Amy Poehler's book of a very similar mode.  Kaling is reportedly a big fan of Poehler.  As I've mentioned, the problem with reading Poehler's memoir is that I so much wanted to find Leslie Knope inside -- since I'm into Leslie Knope.  But Amy isn't Leslie...and it is Leslie I want for a bosom friend.  Now with Kaling, this is flipped.  I read her book hoping to find nothing of Kelly Kapoor (who I do not want for a friend. at. all) and get more of a picture of who Mindy was (because my hunch said I liked Mindy).  And Mindy is not Kelly, and in this case, that is great, because like most people who a) wanted to read this book and b) did read it -- Mindy reads like great friend material. 
  • I love the picture of her on the cover.   (Also: all the pictures she unashamedly shares inside.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Terry Brooks' Latest "Stand-alone"
The Sorcerer's Daughter, Terry Brooks
I have been meaning to sample Terry Brooks for a long time but felt overwhelmed by the Shannara canon; a commitment to explore his work the way I imagined I would explore it meant a commitment to forego reading other books for quite some time.  When Hachette's press release for June featured another Shannara title, instead of glossing over it with the mental promise of "later," I read the promotional material.  And you know what? It promised the novel could read as a stand-alone!  This seemed like the perfect answer to my procrastination pickle (and the perfect answer for the publicity agents too, I'm sure).

I have good and bad news;
  • The good: Jumping in at the offered entry point, albeit late, confirmed what I'd heard about Brooks.  He's a high quality of world-builder.  It reminded me of Trudi Canavan, in style.  With Brooks, there is a kind of medieval cyberpunk mash-up going on, and I can get behind that.  I'm not a big fan of his weaponry choice, but I like fantasy airships a great deal (thank you for awakening this, Canavan).
  • Problem is, knowing Canavan, I know I wouldn't want to jump in at a later point and miss the beautiful exposition that precedes later books; I'd be squinting through a watered down beverage instead of savouring juice and expelling a regular "Aaaaah!" of satisfaction.  Therein lies the bad news; I cannot agree this is a stand-alone novel.  I didn't enjoy it as a stand-alone, and was hyper-aware of all of the notes and nuances I was missing.  Being filled in on earlier episodes centered on other Defenders' of Shannara did not equal having joined them on those episodes.  I have occasionally read a stand-alone novel set in already-constructed world and felt it worked.  This isn't one of those times.  Sorry.
  • I found the characters lacking.  Maybe if I knew them better (again -- this means -- had read about them more) I would care more for them.  But as a stand-alone, these characters didn't appeal to me.  I wasn't invested in any of their futures, and in fact found one female protagonist seriously aggravating.  The villian was the most interesting!  Any scenes without him were quite dull, and I felt everything about them was being summarily reported instead of shown for a long time; I wanted to get back into the live-feel-unfolding narrative the story opened with!  And when it did, it was happening with characters I didn't care enough about.  *sigh* 
  • I do like the style of euphemistic other-world cursing (and yes, it also reminded my of Canavan's high fantasy style).
  • Semi-spoiler: I like that there was a witch.  I don't know why, but I'm into witch narratives at the moment.  (Okay, I do know why, looking at you, Throne of Glass.)
So if you are already into Terry, you don't need my endorsement of his latest book.  If you aren't, my sincere recommendation is that this isn't the best way to becoming acquainted with his work.  Except...except if you're into the TV series -- perhaps that will serve as sufficient grounding to enrich reading this novel.  I haven't seen it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Eight at 8:00: Junk-free June Edition

First up: I'm not doing it.  The whole Junk-free June thing?   Na.  I'm trying to do (mostly) Junk-free LifeBy mostly, I mean that when I'm on a date or attending an event, then I can eat treats.  I am not going to say "no thank you" to the birthday cake you've made or the cookies you cut into hearts on Mothers' Day.   But day-to-day, running errands or doing the grocery shopping?  I no longer swing by the bakery for a bear's claw, pick up baklava / turkish delight (hold the kebab) or go in for Subway...cookiesI no longer justify any morning outing as an excuse for a drive-thru hash brown.  It all had to stop.  Because I was feeding a monster inside that was never. satisfied. 

So when so many people around me are Junk-Free-Juning, I respect what they're doing.  They're reminding that insatiable junk-monster who's boss (or trying to, it's so hard, I know).  It would be better if I didn't, but I am someone who likes to treat herself.  Comfort and emotional eating?  Yes, sometimes.  Also -- just a love of delicious food.  So when I'm trying to reduce junk (for me this is anything that is heavily refined and/or loaded with sweeteners), it helps for me to find savoury, less-refined/sugary treats.  These are not my wholesome foods, they are my new naughtiest foods (which I think are the less evil).

Everyone has such varied ideas about what is classed as "bad" food.  I'm not afraid of all fats.  I avoid fried foods and refined-sugary foods, but I eat cheese, some butter, things cooked in olive oil, a range of carbs, and fruit.

Here are 8 things I consider treats that I do not consider junk food*:
  1. Sushi with brown rice (or a brown rice sushi ball).  Yes, most places add some sugar and mayo to the rice, but I do not consider brown rice sushi to be a breach of the no junk terms (unless you get "crispy chicken" in there -- remind yourself, "crispy" in this case means "FRIED IN FAT" chicken.  Order it by that name, if you're gonna eat it; admit what you're doing).
  2. Dumplings.  One of the best things on the menu at our favourite restaurant is gyoza.  But you know what?  They're really just generic vegetable dumplings that most restaurants purchase from an Asian grocer.  In fact, my Asian grocer confirmed which brand.  The downside for these: many contain MSG.  The plus side: if you make them at home, you can steam them or pan fry in a smidgen of coconut oil and they are not a sugar, fatty treat.  They're an MSG treat if you buy pre-made though.  I don't count them as junk.  They're cutting a corner for sure though.  Homemade would be the ultimate win. 
  3. Pan-seared Haloumi.  Heavens.  I love this.  You don't need to add anything to it.  Just slice the cheese and drop it into a fairly hot skillet.  Flip it.  Eat it.  Maybe in secret, because sharing is hard.  It gives me a similar satisfaction to bacon or beer-batter fries (both things I class as junk food), only Haloumi just isn't as bad, to me.  This is not where you break down why it is.  Please don't.
  4. Pistachios.  Just a handful.  Licking the shells.  Moderately-good-fat.  Not a doughnut.
  5. Yoghurt suckies.  I do not deem these just for the kids.  They are two brands I buy, both of which only sweeten the yoghurt with fruit juice concentrate.  When all of the savoury treats are failing to beat the monster into submission, this is the bone I throw.  It is portion-controlled, contains good cultures, and has the kind of sugar I'm comfortable in having now and then.  Uno has loads of sugar.  I'm talking about The Collective brand suckies and Moo gurt.
  6. Roasted coconut.  I have grilled shavings in the oven, sprinkled salt, and then consider these like dessert chips.  A few is enough too.
  7. Fruit salad.  If you haven't had a good one in a while, it's time you made one and reminded yourself how good they actually can be and how well they can make you feel like you've had dessert.  No, it isn't a brownie / steamed pudding, but it is sweet, and with pineapple / strawberries / blueberries / sliced almonds / something other than banana, apple, peaches and pears -- it helps.
  8. Thai food.  For me, ordering my favourite dish (Yum Neua - a spicy coriander/chilli/lime/garlic/onion/chargrilled chicken salad) is a treat.  It isn't a creamy/fried/satay thing, it is fresh and clear-sauced and not sweet.  It is on the pricier side, but I'm saving by not buying all those soft and buttery cookies and whatnot.  Also: this dish never makes me feel heavy, bloated or guilty.  In fact, it clears my sinuses, when I'm not well.
*They may be junk to you.  They are not to me.  It's okay.  We can still be friends.

I think the key thing I am looking for in reducing my junk food intake, is reducing my refined sugar intake.  When I give the inner monster loads of sugar, it wants more.  When I eat something TASTY that isn't sugary, I win, and the monster shrinks.  This is one of those times I wish I staying on top of comments was something I want to do -- because I'd love to hear your suggestions -- and I'd love for you to be read other people's great ideas.  But alas, they're staying off.  But you can email me always, and I welcome it.

If you're doing this thing -- the Junk-free June-age -- may the force be with you.
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