Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Of course, as anyone who knows me, has read this blog for a while or has looked through the archives while bored knows, I have a rather intense hate for ranges. In fact, I dread and loathe them with my entire being. They have always made me a little anxious because I'm just not that good a shot, but whatever confidence I had about my ability was completely shattered during BOLC II. I've only been a first time go on a range once in my life, but usually, I could get close, and I'd see improvement throughout the day as I got used to the weapon and people coached me until I got my qualification score.
In BOLC II, however, it just wasn't happening for me. It was the first time I'd shot an M4 and we were using COC sights - basically, it was a red light instead of iron sights. Even the instructors didn't seem to agree on what the standard was for zero on those things, so by the end of zeroing day, we'd gone through about two or three different boxes of where our rounds needed to be hitting on the target to be considered zeroed. So that definitely didn't help matters. Zeroing usually either goes very quickly for me, or takes forever. There's no in between. At Ft. Sill, I was having an off day (week), so I kept getting 4 out 6 shots into an area instead of the required five. Basically, this means, I kept screwing up either my trigger squeeze or my sight picture.
I, along with a select few others, had to zero the next day, and this new range was on a rise. I finally zeroed, but when I went to qualify, the qualification range they'd reserved for us was on a decline. It took me a few tries to realize that in order to hit anything, I had to aim for the dirt way below the actual target because my zero was completely off. I couldn't quite figure out how off, though, so I don't think I shot above 20 that entire day. By the end, I was so frustrated, angry and agitated that I almost started crying when the guy running the tower told me "to hurry up because [I] was holding everyone up." Naturally, I didn't qualify that time either because I was shaking with rage and frustration (so much for that steady position). There were four of us that didn't qualify during range week (and actually, it took most people more tries than usual so everyone was having some issues with the new sights or the elevation). We had to go back the next week and shoot at paper targets. After being rezeroed, I qualified on the first try. However, the experience of being on a hot range for four days straight (Heat Cat 5 hot) and usually being one of the last off the range because I just couldn't get it gave me a new, intensified fear and hatred of ranges. Before that, they were unpleasant, they took longer than I liked, but they weren't nearly the same type of torture as they became that week in Oklahoma.
Imagine my delight then when I had to go to a range within a month of getting to my new unit. And I felt like there was some pressure - I was the new platoon leader, I better at least be able to qualify. Fortunately, March in Germany isn't nearly as hot as a Ft. Sill summer, and even better, we were still using the good old-fashioned iron sights (one of the instructors at BOLC II told us that if we got to our unit and it had new equipment to make the soldiers use it because the Army made it for a reason, and it would help in the long run; not to let the soldiers be afraid to try new things or cling to the old ways - thank you very much, but I'll stick to my iron sights - at least this way, I don't have to worry about my weapon running out of batteries when I'm trying to aim). I didn't qualify the first time, but I borrowed an ACH from one of my soldiers for my second try, and made it. The Kevlar I had was too loose and kept falling into my eyes - made it kind of hard to hit anything, since by the time I'd pushed the Kevlar out of my face, the target had usually already fallen back down (I hadn't gone to RFI yet to get all my "cool" combat equipment and the new style ACH). Also, the soldiers asked about my score, but they didn't really care too much that I wasn't expert or even sharpshooter for that matter.
But anyway, the dread and fear remained. After all, Iraq is hot like Oklahoma, so naturally, it seemed like this range would have more in common with that experience (I kept waking up every half hour to hour the night before). So how'd it go? Eh.
I zeroed pretty quickly, but then again, that makes sense. This is my assigned weapon, and I already zeroed it in Germany. I just had to make a minor adjustment so my rounds were falling into the center of the target rather than the bottom (and honestly, I think that may be due to my glasses - I wore contacts in Germany; I remember hearing that when firing with contacts, you end up aiming or seeing things slightly lower or something). That definitely helped my mood, so I just wanted to get on the range and qualify already. And that's when the range shut down for a camp-wide drill. We all sat in the heat, in full gear, for two hours waiting for the range to go wet again. I drank about three liters of water and never once had to use the bathroom. By the time the drill ended, there was only enough time for everyone to go through the qual once and I missed the score by three. THREE! I had to go back the next day because I only got a 23, instead of a 26 (since paper targets are perceived as easier, they have higher standards).
Everyone else's reaction was, "well, that's close." Mine: "I was so close, what if I screw everything I was actually doing right up, and get a worse score?" Which is exactly what happened the next morning.
I was on the first firing order out there, but I wasn't the first in the line so I didn't get the lane all the way at the end. Why is this important? I'm a lefty. When I shoot, I lay one way, while right-handed firers lay the opposite way. Since I was shooting in a middle lane, the guy to my right and I kept accidentally kicking each other. Not a big deal, but it does affect the position a little. I also hadn't completely adjusted my sandbags when they said to start firing, so I was somewhere between supported and unsupported. My ACH kept slipping, my glasses were slipping and fogging up and I couldn't get a good sight picture (since I was having such a hard time getting a sight picture, I think I even aimed at someone else's target at one point). To top it all off, a round of brass went down my neck while I was in the kneeling (fortunately, I only had a round to go so it's not like it broke my composure when it still mattered - by this point, there was already no way I was going to qualify). I got it out, I didn't flag anyone, but Pivo, who knows me pretty well, was acting as a safety, and he said he thought he was going to have to tackle me because I looked like I was about to flip out (it burns!). I ended up with an overwhelming 17 after that attempt.
Next try - 25. 25. Does anyone realize how absolutely frustrating that is? I also almost burned myself a second time, and managed to bust myself in the lip while clearing my weapon. Shut up, Dad. You try holding a weapon, three mags, a target and trying to clear your weapon all at the same time - something might slip. In my case, it was the rifle, and the butt stock hit me in the face.
In summary, I ended up qualifying with a 32 (only took me four times; actually, if you exclude the 17, my other three scores all would average out to three qualifications - not really relevant, but I thought I'd point it out). My neck looks very bad. Maybe I can pass it off as war wound to civilians when I go on R&R - it takes me forever to completely heal - I still had a noticeable mark from getting burned on the grill after more than six months. That one wasn't my fault, though. Still got the klutz factor going for me, or against me, and maybe, just maybe, I'll eventually get a hang of this shooting thing.
Friday, April 25, 2008
I last read this novel when I was in high school, and I have to say, that while I was intelligent and all in high school, and loved books, I didn't seem to appreciate a lot of novels (okay, so I still haven't taken a second look at Bronte but I swear, it's on my shelf, and I'll get around to it). On the one hand, I'm sure some high school students will enjoy this type of stuff and learn from it, but I personally feel like I made several decisions about books based on my high school readings that were too harsh or ill-based. For example, I wasn't into Beloved in high school, but since I've read every one of Morrison's novels. I don't remember feeling all to passionately about this book one way or the other, but it didn't inspire any interest to read anything else by Achebe.
The reason I decided to read it now is because I've read two novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so far this deployment, and I was very impressed by her work. Since she has been compared to Achebe, I wanted to see if the comparison was fair, and I figured if I liked her, then chances were I'd like his novels (not that the "a modern day insert-famous-author-here" recommendation is always a guarantee - in high school, I used to read John Irving, but couldn't even get through a chapter of Dickens).
I enjoyed it a lot - since high school, I've learned a lot more about Western culture and Christianity trying to impose itself on other cultures and judging their customs and traditions without thinking to reexamine theirs, so I appreciated that aspect a lot more.
Okonkwo, the protagonist, is not a very sympathetic character, by any means, but Achebe makes him seem very human. His father's poverty and drunkenness have made Okonkwo a very strict authoritarian who feels like he has something to prove to the world. He has had to work his way up in the world despite his father's failures, and as a result, he is always worried about others perceptions of him, and guards his emotions so he'll seem strong and brave. He beats his wives, kills a boy as part of a sacrifice to the gods, but through it all, while the reader might not approve, Achebe explains his motivations, and even shows his humanity in his relationship with his daughter Ezinma. He loves his children, and, at one point, there was passion in his relationship with at least his second wife (she is the one Achebe focuses on the most).
Given his focus on what is proper, it is of course inevitable that when he falls from power, it would be by tragic accident completely out of his control. No one blamed him for his actions, but tradition is tradition, and as a result Okonkwo and his family are banned from the village for seven years. In these seven years, Christian missionaries begin to have a strong influence over the area, and Okonkwo doesn't want to let go of the old ways. Finally, when a new, more radical missionary takes over, things come to ahead in the village.
Achebe never argues that everything about the old faith or old ways was perfect - after all, Okonkwo gets exiled for an accident, twins are seen as an abomination to be set out to die but there are many traditions that are worth keeping, and given time, who knows what would have happened. The whites, however, just come in, claim the land for their queen, introduce their laws (and their system is often more corrupt), and their religion on the villagers without regard for their traditions and beliefs. The white never actually wonder if maybe it is their ideas that are flawed or could use improvement - imperialism at its best.
Barbara Ehrenreich is now perhaps most well known for her book Nickel and Dimed, but way back in the day, she and Deirdre English wrote this piece about women, medicine and psychology.
It took me a while to finish this - it was engaging and it wasn't dry, but other things kept coming up that I was slightly more interested in. I think part of the problem is that while their research was probably rather new and groundbreaking in 1978, several authors have since taken similar topics and written books. While there was some new information, for the most part, it felt like a recap of things I had heard/learned in either class or from other books. However, I think it works well as either an introduction or a refresher.
The first section deals with how women, traditional healers and midwives were shut out of medicine as it became a profession and men, who often had no hands on experience and relied merely on book learning (Ken Follett used this as a plot line in World Without End), villainized women who used home remedies and common sense because they lacked formal education. They also mention how witch hunts in Europe were part of this strategy since many of the women accused of witch craft had a knowledge of herbs and healing, and this was used against them. In order to turn medicine into a profession, it had to become more regulated, and men also had to convince others that they had a service to sell rather than an obligation to help others. The book When Abortion Was A Crime also has a good history of men taking over women's medicine, even pushing midwives out by accusing them of being dirty, among other strategies.
Throughout, women's gender and sex was seen as reason enough to keep them outside the medical profession and work in general. Most diseases, no matter what, were blamed on the uterus, and women were seen as incapable of dealing with stress. History went through a shift from the woman as an invalid, unable to do anything because of her frailty, to being a cheerful, active housewife. In all cases, these definitions of womanhood excluded black and working class women since these women didn't have the luxury to be sick or invalid for weeks at a time nor did they have the option of staying home and playing homemaker because their income was vital to the family.
Another point that was kind of interesting was the take on children. With the turn of the century, children also began to be viewed in a different light. Now they became the center point of a woman's existence, but even here the experts changed their minds time and again as to how to properly raise them and what women's duty was. It went from children need a firm hand, to telling women to simply cater to their children's needs ('50s), and until the experts decided that children were horrible ungrateful creatures that needed discipline. And of course, the Oedipus Complex was thrown in, and women were responsible for anything that went wrong with their children - they were either resentful or overprotective.
The book also includes a foreword and afterword which was added to this edition, published in 2004. Expert advice is still prominent as ever as demonstrated by the large self-help sections, and as in the past, it continues to be contradicting and restrictive.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I mean, I knew it was going to be slightly on the conservative side when I ordered it but I still wanted to see what others engaged in the war were saying, and I'm just completely irritated with what Burden chose as a representation of the war. I certainly don't see myself or my experience anywhere in this damn thing. And I'm trying to consider that the book was published in 2006 and two or more years can make quite a difference, but it's still aggravating.
Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. This will be continued some time in the near future.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
This book is a bit of a shift after a feminist guide, since Jen Lancaster is a self-described conservative Republican that actually reads Ann Coulter. This is her second memoir, and she got the first book deal partially as a result of her blog, www.jennsylvania.com . Her blog is usually rather amusing, and this book was a nice, light read.
Her first book, Bitter is the New Black, was a much more traditional linear narrative. This one is a series of anecdotes, mostly occurring in chronological order, addressing certain themes or stupid events in her life. Actually, it's a lot like reading several very long blog entries. Jen isn't afraid to look at her bad features or portray herself in a very unflattering light (in ways, her behavior towards others has improved since the last book, but she also seems to act even more dizzy on occasion). A lot of the book works because of her humor, and while she is good at making fun of others, she is also self-deprecating, and recognizes when her humor starts getting just cruel.
I admit, sometimes when I read her blog or her books, I hit points where I want to cringe due to her political views or certain behaviors, but there's enough of the humor as discussed above to alleviate any discomfort I might feel. Besides, I'm in the Army - I'm kind of used to being surrounded by people who I like on an individual basis but whose beliefs and political views I absolutely disagree with. And honestly, while perhaps occasionally shallow, Jen Lancaster appears to be slightly more liberal on social issues, although I could be wrong (she isn't homophobic so I'm assuming she is also more pro-gay rights, but then again, I've known people that had several gay friends and were still against gay marriage). Honestly, it's probably just that I think she's funny so I want to give her the benefit of doubt.
Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte recently released this book, and it had favorable reviews, so I ordered it along with a few other blog-inspired books.
The book is broken down into eight sections with several chapters each. Some of them include advice about how to deal with or spot certain types of people, others attack and mock certain prominent media myths/stories or explain and analyze different cultural phenomenons. If you aren't already a feminist, or don't share her views, this book probably won't change your mind. Her opinions are well-crafted and supported, but she isn't necessarily trying to sway anyone over. Instead, it's a fun, amusing book for an audience that already sees things her way, more or less.
I think parts of it would be entertaining even for people who aren't incredibly liberal, but they'd probably also take issue with a few of her statements or topics, wondering what's the big deal about that, anyway. I enjoyed it a lot. The last section includes some recommendations for further reading and viewing. I own four of her six favorite, feminist-friendly shows on DVD.
Among my favorite sections of the books, I'd have to include "Whither Cats?" In this, Marcotte discusses, how in response to hearing about single women living alone, the public responds with the outcry cats. As she states, people who says this have yet to prove "that cats are somehow antihusband and (2) assuming #1 is true, that husbands are better than cats" (76). After all, cats don't get upset if "you don't change your name to Mrs. Cat" (76). I like cats - can you tell? In theory, I have two, but they are really my parents'.
Speaking of the name change, Marcotte also has a great chapter about that entitled "The Name Change Is No Longer Sexist, So Just Shut Up And Do It." She brings up several arguments that people like to make to support name changes, refutes them, and also offers a few strategies to get people to shut up, such as mentioning "that you'd love to have the same last name as your husband, [but] he was surprisingly less than eager to adopt yours" (185). She realizes that people are going to choose their battles, and for some women, this one just isn't worth the trouble. Still, it's nice to analyze and mock the pressure behind this tradition.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Rather than say I don't have one, I answered, "At my hooch."
"Well, what's your rank? Is that sergeant or lieutenant? Because that's not going to prevent anything."
"Well, you understand where I'm coming from."
"Roger." By this point, I'm already slightly pissed, and start walking off.
"We're having a pool party on Saturday." I thought he was speaking to the guy next to him, who must have been his battle buddy.
"You can come, ma'am."
What the hell - it sounds like if anything, the only guys I need to worry about bugging me while I'm alone are the same ones trying to "look out" for me and asking me about the presence or absence of my battle buddy. Seriously, though, first you give someone crap about being alone and then you invite them to the pool?
(Before anyone else starts giving me crap about walking alone in the dark, this route is too short and well-used to be an issue. I would describe it in more detail but I'm not sure how close that would come to being an OPSEC issue since anyone familiar with the post might be able to decipher my location.)
Saturday, April 19, 2008
In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen parodies the popular Gothic fiction of the time, and uses her heroine to demonstrate what can happen when some imaginative and susceptible women spend too much time reading novels. While visiting her new friends, Catherine begins to suspect her surroundings, all due to her love of Gothic novels. In the day of light, all her fears always end up having completely logical explanations until finally Catherine realizes what a fool she has been by trying to turn her life into a novel. Austen continues to explore this theme in her final novel Persuasion. She uses her characters to illustrate the effects different types of literature can have on certain personalities, and how Romanticism, in excessive amounts, could make people much too sentimental.
Throughout Sister Noon, Fowler references Lizzie Hayes's love of literature and novels, and how her imagination often runs away with her. At the end of the novel, one woman tells her that one has either time to study people or books, and it is obvious that Hayes has done the later. Seeing that Fowler would later write The Jane Austen Book Club, I thought it was interesting, though not surprising, to see Fowler use the idea of the over-imaginative reader as a protagonist and theme in this novel.
The novel is about Lizzie Hayes, a spinster in 1890's San Francisco, and how she begins to slowly re-evaluate her life. After forty years of being the proper woman, she longs for some adventure, though she still craves the good opinion of those around her. Her idea of adventure is rather tame, and mainly revolves around her fascination with Mary E. Pleasant, the notorious woman who is the subject of much of the town's gossip. Throughout the novel, many stories are told of Mary Pleasant and her past, though she only appears in a few scenes. She is accused of practising voodoo and engaging in child's trade among many other things. Lizzie is at times unreliable because she wants to believe the stories, though in reality, Mary Pleasant was a shrewd woman with good business sense, and the fact that she was rich and black was enough reason to set tongues wagging. The narrator is omniscient but tells the story from Lizzie's side the most often. However, it is easy to see just how far removed from reality Lizzie is when, for example, one chapter tells Jenny's story and then shows Lizzie's perspective (the girl that torments Jenny is seen as a guardian angel). There are also chapters where the narrator seems to be simply reporting events and is completely detached from the action.
I was hesitant about Sister Noon at first due to Lizzie. She seems dull at the beginning, and occasionally lacking in sense. However, despite her fancies, the novel is interesting, and Lizzie develops throughout the story. By the end, she shows some true strength and backbone, making decisions that aren't incredibly outrageous, but still rather scandalous in her social circles.
Also, Fowler has a great writing style and a nice handle on her prose. Even when I was unsure of the novel, I noticed that it was well-written. The narrative flows back and forth in time, showing how the mysteries surrounding Mary Pleasant and the Bell family continued to be a source of gossip with no real solutions for years to come. Mostly, it dealt with the constraints of society, and the limited positions available for women. For example, when younger, Lizzie rejected three marriage proposals, so since she didn't marry anyone her father approved of in his life, he made sure to prevent her from marrying anyone he might disapprove of after his death. If she were to marry, she would be cut out of the will, and cease to receive her allowance. For much of her life, Lizzie was resigned to her role, but by the end of the novel, she leaves the life she was pidgeon-holed into and develops a new place for herself.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Anyway, on to the links:
Remember how I recently read some sci-fi by Octavia Butler? Here are some more interesting sci-fi/fantasy recommendations, and summaries of their approaches to gender.
This is a fun review/summary of The Little Mermaid, which just fits in perfectly after reading the book From Mouse to Mermaid. Contains some interesting analysis without being too heavy or theory-oriented.
I agree with both authors about the Monologues - they are fun, they raise awareness, but there is also a bit too much essentialism in Ensler's approach to gender.
I first saw the play when I was a freshmen in college, and was blown away. It wasn't as if I had issues with my sexuality before this, but there were some things I definitely hadn't considered. As a result, I ended up buying a copy of the play and locating a hand mirror. (Another book that made me reconsider my approach to certain things was The Curse which I read sophomore year - after that, I never felt uncomfortable or awkward buying tampoons openly again or pulling them out of my bag - it's a natural function, dammit, deal with it. When I was at BOLC II, one of my roommates who was actually incredibly loud and outspoken about many topics was embarrassed to be seen carrying tampoons around a store so I ended up grabbing them - I wasn't about to get a cart for two items)
I saw it again my sophomore year, and then ended up too busy to go my junior year, though I almost auditioned. I even had one of the speeches ("The Vagina Workshop") memorized and "performed" (I'm not much of an actor) it sans the British accent at a Roe V. Wade anniversary event. I really wish I'd actually had the guts to go out of my comfort zone and audition instead of worrying about time conflicts with ROTC.
When I went to see it my senior year after spending the last two years focusing a lot more on my gender studies major, I had a slightly different reaction. I still liked it but many of the approaches seemed almost too simplistic. Other things seemed to support certain stereotypes about race and gender (for example, every production I'd seen had a black woman do "My Angry Vagina" - the black woman has to be angry? That's not the only thing I noticed at the time but it's been over two years). However, despite that the play is rather funny at times, sad at others, and is being used to help domestic violence victims.
The backlash from the conservatives is also entertaining- "oh my God, they used the word vagina!" Also, somehow, The Vagina Monologues are apparently responsible for a lack of chivalry causing a movement called "Take Back the Date" in response. Some people are just idiots.
* That's a quote from the monologue "Because He Liked to Look at It"
Monday, April 14, 2008
Quick summary of the story:
An eight year old girl went to court to sue her father after he forced her to marry a 30 year old man. According to the article, Yemeni law allows parents to make contracts for their children's marriages before the age of 15, but the husband is supposed to wait until the girl is "mature." Obviously, it can be a matter of opinion what ready or mature is, but eight is ridiculous and the courts agreed and removed her from her family. The officials said they were "planning to put her in Dar Al-Rahama [an non-governmental organization that works with children], where she can have a better life and education."
The actual background is, of course, completely depressing. However, it is incredible that this eight year old girl went to court by herself to get out of a horrible situation. Maybe it's just my complete lack of knowledge of children, but how many eight year olds would really even think of going to a judge alone after two months of abuse? Or not be too afraid of their abusers to report them?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
As far as the book is concerned, the full title is Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity. Judging simply on the title, I felt like I could completely relate to that. I spent much of high school and college dateless, and "reluctantly chaste" not because I didn't want to go on dates and such, but because no one really seemed all too interested. And I have the feeling the future is going to be a lot like that as well - I'm going to end up like 30 Rock's Liz Lemon. When Liz Lemon goes to the doctor's office during the first season (I think for a Pap Smear, but I can't quite remember), a nurse or doctor looks at her chart and comments on the fact that she's had three sexual partners in the past ten years. Liz looks squirmish and then makes an excuse about being busy with work, or something. Hopefully, at least I'll have the successful and fulfilling career by then as well as a nice wardrobe.
It's especially hard out here. Not dating - like I'd want to do that down here - just meeting people in general (especially as an officer because there is a much more limited number of those). I tend to prefer one-on-one friendships, and everything in the Army seems to be more based on the group mentality. My interests (movies, books etc.) aren't exactly group activities. It doesn't help that socially the Army is very much like high school or kindergarten - if two people of the opposite gender start hanging out, some people like to assume they are interested in each other or start making comments. The comparison makes sense, though - like a small high school, a company has a hundred some people in it, and those are the people you're around the most. As a result, of course, people are going to notice what everyone else is doing, and eventually get bored enough to talk about it. Meeting people and making friends in other companies can involve a little more work and effort as well as more planning since schedules aren't always going to mesh as well as with other people in your platoon/ company (I guess it's like a rival high school if we're going to keep going with the analogy).
As far as the book is concerned, I misinterpreted the title - upon reading the blurb, it turned out that the author is Christian and the reluctant chastity appears to have more to do with balancing her religious values and her romantic life. Oh well. That makes it a little less relatable for me but I'd still like to win.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I've read Stephen Colbert's I am America (And So Can You), and also have a copy of America sitting in my apartment somewhere. I thought this looked like it might be an entertaining tongue in cheek comedic book as well. It mostly was but only half of the book actually contained written content - the last half was a collection of recipes and crafts. The first part of the book was rather funny, though I think towards the end, she was really grasping as far as trying to find topics to discuss. Some of her hints about hosting actually sounded rather useful and reasonable (actually, sometimes, she has too much reasonable, good advice and swerves too far from the comedy), while other suggestions are insane, such as her money jar and her need to sell things for a quarter. Surprisingly enough, I think some of the recipes might actually be worth a shot (her Tzatiziki recipe probably wouldn't get runny too quickly, which is a problem my mom has).
I also just looked on Amazon because I was curious about people's reactions - some of the negative comments were rather funny. I guess some people didn't realize this was supposed to be humorous and were disappointed with the lack of useful hosting tips. Oops. It might not be the most substantial or funniest book out there, but it was still a nice distraction. I haven't been able to focus on the normal book I'm reading right now, but this worked perfectly. Of course, deciding to rewatch all three season of Arrested Development also isn't helping too much on the book front.
As far as movies are concerned, I'm really not that impressed with Ron Howard - I think his movies tend to go for the schmaltz factor a lot, but as the narrator and producer of Arrested Development? Absolutely fantastic.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
After reading several books (including Reconstructing Womanhood, and Psychoanalysis and Black Novels) which analyzed this novel, I finally read it. Larsen portrays Helga Crane as a character that is constantly searching. Every time she begins a new life, she is at first happy, but after about a year, her old dissatisfaction sets back in. Throughout the novel, she tries to define what she wants as happiness but she doesn't know what that means to her outside of her enjoyment of material things. She doesn't feel like she belongs anywhere, feeling a sense of yearning and lack everywhere she goes. She doesn't feel comfortable in the black community, and critiques her friend Anne, who is very racially conscious:
She hated white people with a deep and burning hatred, with the kind of hatred which, finding itself held in sufficiently numerous groups, was capable someday, on some great provocation, of bursting into dangerously malignant flames. But she aped their clothes, their manners, and their gracious ways of living. While proclaiming loudly the undiluted good of all things Negro, she yet disliked the songs, the dances, and the softly blurred speech of the race. Towards these things she showed only a disdainful contempt. (80)After spending time with her mother's side of the family in Denmark, Helga realizes that she doesn't fit into white society, either. In white Europe, she is admired but excotized. It's a very different type of racism than in the United States and perhaps less malicious, but racism nonetheless. In Copenhagen, her race makes her an attraction but all the attention and admiration she receives are based on the idea of her as the "Other."
Another constant theme in Helga's portrayal are her sudden changes. Once she begins feeling dissatisfied, it is only a matter of time before she will decide to leave and move on in her life. Usually, whenever she decides this, she feels the need to leave immediately. Once she makes up her mind, she acts upon it almost that very moment. As a result, her marriage isn't as surprising as one might think since Helga, though very intelligent, has never been one to deliberate upon her desires, decisions and whims.
Helga never finds what she is looking for, and one of her impulsive decisions ends up trapping her for good. Her spirit basically broken, when she finally begins to realize her own unhappiness at this final situation, she delays planning her departure, which is a first for her character, until it is too late.
The collection also included Passing which I'd already read, and three short stories. The introduction contains a lot of biographical data, and explains many existing confusions and contradictions about Larsen's life. It was well researched, but didn't contain too much textual analysis. However, since I'm not sure if other books with Quicksand and Passing also include the short stories, I'd definitely recommend this version just for completeness.
I enjoyed Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and I also liked the movie Wonderboys, based on his second novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was recently adapted into a movie, and I heard it was rather good, so I ordered his first novel. After reading it, I think it could make for a good movie, but as a novel, I couldn't get into it.
There were some very well-written and amusing passages, such as his description of female French majors (definitely a stereotype, but he even opens the paragraph with the disclaimer that he has "an ugly fondness for generalizations" (96)):
She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign language ... if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French Literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind. (96)The problem I had was with the characters - they just seemed like a bunch of spoiled brats. The narrator, Art, is mostly a nice guy, but he's not doing anything with his life - he has just graduated college, and is spending his last summer chilling. Fine, but there's no indication that he has any plans once the summer is over - I found that slightly obnoxious and definitely understood his father's concerns. Phlox, one of two prominent woman characters, is a raging homophobe, and the aforementioned crazy French major - Art's descriptions of her in the beginning make her sound so unappealing and odd that I didn't quite understand the sudden attraction between them. And then there is Cleveland. In his last summer of freedom, Art has met a new group of people and friends, and quickly developed close ties to them all. They are all fascinated by the character Cleveland, who is apparently larger than life - personally, I didn't see the appeal behind him. He is the cause of many a past adventure, but by the time he appears in the novel, he's already on a decline, and just loud, boisterous, and reckless.
Of course, it might just be that I can't quite relate to these people - I wouldn't declare my love for someone after less than three months, which these characters constantly do, and while I have on occasion become fast friends with someone, the way Art becomes completely engrossed in these strangers' lives in such a short time doesn't make sense to me. One of the blurbs says that it is a novel about friendship, but the friendships didn't ring true to me, or at least, Art's role in them didn't.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
This was a collection of essays about Disney movies. The book was divided into three sections: Sanitations/ Disney Film as Cultural Pedagogy, Contestations/ Disney Film as Gender Construction, Erasures/ Disney Film as Identity Politics. The first section talks about the some of the themes in Disney, and the formulas they tend to use. In one essay, the author examines the differences between the Pinocchio fairy tale and the Disney film, and how Disney's changes make the story be a very different type of morality tale, and honestly, the original sounds like it had more to say. There was also a discussion of Billy Bathgate or Disney's failed attempt at gangster films, and the ways in which the film sanitized the story, and took a lot of the color and ambiguity out of it (the novel the film was based on sounds kind of interesting). I liked that one most out of this section.
The second section, of course, talked about representations of gender in Disney: the innocent heroine, the evil villainness/ femme fatale figure, the old helper/fairy godmother figure. They also talked about presentations of masculinity in films such as Bambi, where the king stag reigns over everything. My favorite essay in this section was a discussion of The Beauty and the Beast, and the comparison of the fairy tale, where the Beast won the Beauty by being kind and intelligent, to Disney's version, in which Belle had to teach him how to be a proper man. They also mentioned Kindergarten Cop in this essay since it came out as a similar time, and also shows a beast figure (Arnold Schwarzenegger) be civilized by a woman.
The third section had quite a few interesting essays about very different topics. One was an analysis of Pretty Woman as seen by a black feminist. Another writer examined The Little Mermaid in juxtaposition to Barbara Bush speech, and tells how she can gain hope from the film as a feminist despite the destruction of Ursula. I also enjoyed the chapter "Spinsters in Sensible Shoes" which examines how nontraditional women are actually used to uphold traditions and social norms.
While reading this, I realized how many Disney movies I haven't seen - I remember as a child, I owned a few, but the only one I really remember watching over and over again is The Little Mermaid. I also had quite a few of the books, and my memories of the Disney book versions of their animated tales are much stronger. My mom still had a soft spot for these books for quite a while because of all my childhood books, these are the only ones she never let me get rid of or even box up. They haven't been touched or read in years, but they are still on a bookshelf in our house.
Ann Petry's The Street, in a nutshell, is about Lutie Johnson's ill-fated struggle to get her son and herself out of life on the street, and to achieve some type of upward mobility. Her surroundings and her background all combine against her, and despite her work and good intentions, it all comes to naught. The novel serves as an insightful and intelligent commentary on race and gender. Lutie, while working for a rich white family, learns the value of money and believes that hard work, planning and saving will help her move up in the world, but when she actually tries to live by these values, she finds herself stuck. Her husband leaves her while she is working to support their family since he can't get a job. It takes her more than a year to get a license/certificate that certifes her as a proper typist, so that she can get a better job, and even that one barely pays enough for her to support herself, her son and the apartment she was so desperate to get. The men in the novel all sexually objectify her. Lutie is stuck because she can barely make it on her own, but she can't afford a divorce from her estranged husband, and she has no interest in becoming involved with a man without marriage. When she had worked for the white family, all the female visitors would comment how they wouldn't be able to have an attractive black woman working in their house, since they are all so promiscuous. Lutie was incredibly offended by these assumptions, and as her celibate life after her husband shows, she continues to feel it is extremely important not to be another loose woman - she wants out of the life she has. Her constant worrying about money begins to affect her son so he is easily manipulated by a man who wants to teach Lutie a lesson.
The entire time Lutie's struggle seems incredibly futile, and even what she begins to view as her one chance out, seems impossible. Of course, even that is taken away from her, and the novel ends on a very hopeless note. Once the street has you, there's no escaping.
I had ordered Wild Seed when I discovered that it was a) part of a series, and b) the entire series was contained in one volume, Seed to Harvest. It wasn't until I completely read the entire volume, that I looked at the copyright page to see when the novels were published. As it turns out, they were published in a completely different order than they were presented in this collection. Whoever published it decided to go with chronological order rather than publishing date. I was fine with it, although it definitely gave me a different connection to the characters than I would have had otherwise. If I'd read Patternmaster first, I wouldn't have been wondering how the characters from Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind would have reacted to the eventual fate of their descendants and people. I think it would have made sense to put Clay's Ark at the end of the volume though, even if it took place third chronologically - when I started reading it, I was trying to find the connection, only being able to remember a character named Clay from Mind of My Mind (and he does figure in a little bit). Clay's Ark explains the origin of the enemy species in Patternmaster, so personally I would have preferred receiving the back story later instead of before, knowing it was a back story and relevant. Also, apparently, there was a fifth novel in the series but Octavia Butler decided she disliked it and wouldn't allow it to be reprinted.
Wild Seed sets up the characters Doro and Anyanwu. He is an entity that has survived for several thousand years by jumping from body to body, and in the process killing the bodies he uses. In his thousands of years of existence, he has decided to start a breeding program of sorts, taking people with dispositions to telepathy and other special talents, guarding over them and trying to create a certain type of person. Anyanwu, probably the descendant from a lost branch of one of his tribes, is a shape shifter and healer, and basically immortal. Over the novel, they develop a long but strained relationship, sometimes being close friends, other times being enemies. Butler uses her novels to explore ideas of gender, sexuality and race, and it is very obvious in these two characters. While Doro chooses male bodies most of the novel, and Anyanwu remains in the female form during the narrative, they both possess the ability to go back and forth, and talk about times when they have. As a shape shifter, Anyanwu can be black, white, male, female as she chooses, though in her natural shape, she is a young black woman. Doro can use whatever body he wants. I liked this novel best of the series, partially because it had the whole historic angle going as well, beginning in 1690.
Mind of My Minds takes place in something resembling the present day, and is about Mary. She is basically the end product Doro had in mind when he started his little science project, but when he gets this far, he begins wondering whether it was a good idea or not, and sees her as a threat to his power. Anyanwu, now Emma, does not have much of a part in the novel - she helps with Mary's upbringing but the two women do not get along (which is unfortunate because I liked her in Wild Seed), and the novel is mostly about Mary and the creation of the Pattern that binds all those with telepathic ability together.
Clay's Ark takes place in the 21st century, and as mentioned earlier, at first seems rather unrelated to the rest of the novels. It explains the back story about where the Clayarks from Patternmaster came from, and tells the story of a small farming community in the middle of nowhere in the United States. The rest of the States apparently has turned into a very bad and unsafe place to be with a few nice areas (the suburbs, basically), and is overrun by lawless gangs. The small community is protected from that, but they represent a different kind of danger and are the carriers of an alien virus/invasion.
The concluding, or beginning whichever way you take it, novel Patternmaster centers on Teray, one of the sons of the current Patternmaster. It is far into the distant future, and the world has basically been divided in two - the part controlled by the Patternists and the Clayark's land (normal humans, or mutes, are now simply servants for the members of the Pattern, or the telepaths). There is an ongoing battle between Patternists and Clayarks, but the novel is mainly concerned with the struggle Teray faces simply to be independent, and his attempt to be free of his brother who sees him as a rival to the Pattern.
Overall, it wasn't a bad series but I've seen suggested that Butler's later work is much better. Is it just me, or does it seem like when it comes to science fiction there are two very popular visions of the future? One is the spaceships and super technology, and the other sees humans almost going back to feudal society with some special abilities. Patternmaster was definitely one of the later. Butler's look at race was perhaps most obvious in Wild Seed, and by obvious I simply mean, she actually talks about it in terms of black/white. As in many other SF novels, the treatment of different or alien species takes the place of actual race as defined in current society. For example, instead of being about skin, the Patternists are the "master race" who basically enslave humans without certain abilities.
Personally, I've never broken up with someone over their taste in books or anything, preferring to be grateful that the guy actually read books, some of which were slighlty intellectual on occasion, but maybe I should start taking literary tastes into account more. Also, I have no problem with some of the authors mentioned per se, but if that's all you read, that's a problem - go ahead and read and enjoy The DaVinci Code as long as it's only a small percentage of your overall reading (I read crap but feel I read enough good literature to balance it out) - if that's all you read, though, that might be an issue (or at least, you might feel condescended to whenever your taste in books comes up).
My last ex listed Hemingway as his favorite author and read a lot of James Patterson. He was also into French literature (I bought him Les Miserables in French but he never finished it; he also claimed that Shakespeare's French contemporaries were much better playwrights) - I probably should have seen that one wasn't going anywhere. I'm very much into American literature, read James Patterson in high school but really didn't think he distinguished himself from anyone else in that genre (also read some Jeffrey Deaver and Patricia Cornwell back then, but always intermixed with other literature), and I haven't touched Hemingway since high school (I liked The Sun Also Rises a lot; For Whom The Bell Tolls not so much). I should probably give him credit, though, since he read The Female Thing after I gave it to him - at least he tried.
I can't remember what the ex before that read, though I know he read - some sci-fi, and also philosophy (boring). Basically, his collection was a lot more random, but he was rather snobbish about it.
Pajiba had this to say about movie tastes and dating a while back - I wish they would do a column about books and what that says about relationships because their "Guide to Third-Date Flicks" was very amusing.