Saturday, March 21, 2009

LIS 722: Week 11

Week 11: Growing Up
Books: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson &
Born Confused by Tanjua Desai Hidier

The First Part Last is a surprisingly short, non-preachy book about teen pregnancy kinds of issues. It focuses on the teen father, rather than the mother, and how he is raising the child. It isn't because the mother can't, or doesn't want to raise the baby that the father is, but rather the fact that she can't because she's in a 'persistent vegetative state' brought on by eclampsia gone wrong.

When Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, found out she was pregnant, they didn't know what to do. They told his parents, then told hers. In the end, they made the choice to give the baby up for adoption, and everything was all ready to go, until Nia developed complications and lapsed into a coma. Bobby then decided to keep the baby, in part because she was all he had left of Nia, and in part because he felt responsible for her (Feather).

I liked how it doesn't pull any punches-the father, Bobby, is tired, can't always think straight, and is pretty much completely responsible for his baby daughter, Feather. Bobby's mother doesn't help out much because she believes that Feather is 300% Bobby's responsibility; it also doesn't appear to be in her nature. Bobby's father is more likely to want to help, but he lives all the way across the city, and so isn't a immediate presence. Johnson's writing is sparse, but packs a wallop. The one thing that drove me batty about the book was the continuous going back and forth between the 'now' and 'then'. I don't mind it if a book starts off in the 'now', and then backs up to the 'then' to explain how the 'now' came about. But for the love of books, it doesn't need to happen forty-two thousand times (give or take a thousand).

Born Confused is a book I thought I wouldn't like. At ALL. It just didn't even LOOK appealing to me, and the length! Wow-500 pages, really? But, I was going to soldier through it because one of my friends was doing a presentation on it; that's just how I am.

So, with dragging feet, I started the book, and was surprised at how much it resonated with me. I really liked it. I could just see it all playing out, hear the sounds, see the brillant colors, and watch the absolute life-changing shift for Dimple.

I thought it was interesting that 'normal' American life was presented as rather colorless and soulless compared to Indian life, which was more underground. It wasn't an overt, "Hey, our culture is better than yours", but it was certainly a celebration of a different culture than what is often found.

Who hasn't either had or known a friend like Gwyn? I thought it ironic that Gwyn wanted to be Indian like Dimple, and sort of believed that it could happen just by wearing Dimple's clothes. I also wondered if Gwyn would've been so eager to want that if she wasn't a blonde white girl; in a couple of my undergrad classes, it was called 'white privilege'. Would she say the same had she not been white? Even if she did say something along the lines of "You don't think I have problems too?", all I could think is, "Honey, you have no idea."

One of the best insights I took away was "Sometimes you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself." I totally get that. There were so many things in this book that made me stop and think about the parallels in my own life. I so remember my parents being dumber than a box of rocks (with the lid off)...all the way until they weren't (they thought it was hilarious when I told them so). I've pretty much always been just like I am now, so I didn't have a big shift like Dimple. But, when I was a teenager in high school, trying to figure out where my place was, I remember sometimes wishing I could just go along to get along...but I'm just not wired that way, which has actually served me better in the long run. Who knows if I'd get as much out of the book if I were to read it again. So, I'm not going to. I've learned enough along the way to let the book be magic as it is.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

LIS 722: Week 10

Week 10: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Books: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman & Feed by MT Anderson

There are some books that work really well in print. And then there are those who are absolutely meant to be listened to via audiobook. These are 2 of those books.

The Golden Compass is narrated by Philip Pullman himself, and performed by a full cast. I first listened to it during Fall Term 2007 for LIS 721 (the children's literature version of LIS 722). Although it was hard at first to keep everyone straight, character-wise, I really enjoyed listening.

There was a hue and cry when the movie came out, about how this book was about 'killing God'. Um, no. Organized religion, yes; God, not so much. But it wasn't even *this* book that addressed that idea so much. I do vividly remember one of our daughter's teachers ranting about all this (it was when she was going to the local Catholic school, so I can't say I was surprised), and how he urged the class to neither read the book nor watch the movie. Our daughter did both anyway. I ended up writing a letter to her teacher, which says what I think about the book quite well. Here's some excerpts:

Yes, Mr. Pullman is an atheist, and yes, he writes books. Yet, the actual content of The Golden Compass does not revolve around those facts; rather, one of the central storylines is the search for truth, and to what extent some people will go to any lengths to cover up that same truth. Although Mr. Pullman does, to some extent, delve into the concept of ‘original sin’, and what it means to religions worldwide, the story is more than that. It is about bravery in the face of danger; it is about friendship; in the end, it is about love. True, Mr. Pullman does lambaste the Church; yet, he does not specifically name which Church- - I truly don’t think he singles out the Catholic Church. Instead, I think he is taking issue with the dogmatism of every religion, which in and of itself, is a valid line of questioning that should be explored.

I think this is what put paid to his argument:

I understand that there will be controversy over both the movie and the book. But, I have to wonder about those who are denouncing either or both without actually watching the movie or reading the books. If indeed, the movie and book are so anti-religion, shouldn’t this be an opportunity for religions everywhere (not just the Catholic Church) to speak up and say, “Well, certainly that is what the movie/book says, but here are our beliefs” rather than raising such a hue and cry? The Church has withstood many challenges in the past 2000+ years, and not always through the “love your neighbor” philosophy (for example, the Inquisition comes to mind, as does the historically documented persecution and killing of the Gnostics); yet even now, when something that is contradictory to its tenets comes around, it still feels the need to yell, “Don’t go see/read/do (fill in the blank)!!!” If a mere movie or book is enough to turn someone away from the Church, or religion in general, then it could be argued that his or her faith was perhaps neither that strong nor grounded to begin with. It could also be said that perhaps the people speaking out against it do not have faith that what their teachers, leaders, parish, or Church is teaching is enough to sway the doubters.

Feed was good too, in a different way. Normally, I'm not much for Dystopian novels, but the narrator just nailed the tone of voice & inflections of a teenager.

It's the other book I'm presenting on this term, so instead of doing anything more here with it, here's the link to the wiki my partner & I set up for it:
Winter Term 2009 LIS 722 Feed Presentation .

LIS 722: Week 9

Week 9: Horror
Book: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

You know, Twilight wasn't so bad the second time. Really. I think I did all my eye-rolling the first time I read it over Christmas break, right before I saw the movie. Four times. As far as the storyline goes, yeah, it has holes that a double-decker bus could drive through, but hey-it could have been much worse. I still like the movie better, though.

Twilight= girl moves to Small Town, Washington, starts at a new school, eyes up a really good looking guy who just happens to be a Vampire (who's a vegetarian & sparkles, for goodness sake), then gets into trouble that said Vampire has to help her out of, falls in love with him & wants to become a vampire too, meets his family (also vegetarian sparkly Vampires) who play baseball, but who are confronted by bad vampires (presumably neither vegetarian nor sparkly, & who want to eat girl), escapes, but offers herself up as a sacrifice to the bad vampires so others may live, doesn't end up dead, but does have to go to prom in the end. Yep, that about covers it. I knew she'd live, but that's only because there are 3 other books in the series, and well, my momma didn't raise no dummy.

I know that there are plenty of people (not just women) who yell about how misogynistic Twilight is, but you know, I don't know if I agree 100%. I agree that Bella should've taken more opportunities to tell Edward to go jump in a lake when he got all Mr Bossy-Pants at her, sure. But as far as saying that it seems that Edward had to constantly be Bella's rescuer, well, maybe so, maybe not. I'm not sure she would've had a fighting chance against the guys in Port Angeles, and I'm definitely sure she wouldn't have had even a ghost of a chance against James (the bad Vampire guy). Seriously, there's something to be said for bringing more than a knife to a gun fight, yes? And as far as I'm concerned, since it was Edward who got her into the mess with James, it's only fair that he be the one to fix it.

I liked the movie better mainly because I didn't have to keep reading about Edward's beauty. Well, that, and part of it was filmed in Oregon, in the part where I used to live, and it was great being able to see what used to be home. I'm not sure why exactly this was classified under 'Horror', unless it was because of the Vampires and hints of Werewolves. When I think of 'Horror', I think of Stephen King's Christine or some of his other ones--the ones that when I read them, I didn't want to go to sleep at night.

Overall, one of the better books I've read this term, and one that I know is popular across a wide span of patrons. Do I think it's going to be a 'classic'? No. But it's good fun nonetheless.