It was falling into disrepair (but not disuse, clearly, considering the continued pile-up of books, magazines, flyers, random household items), and now it’s not. In fact, there’s a fresh, new structure to frequent. THANK YOU, mystery carpenter!
One of my surprises at the conclusion of 2016 was, despite being devoted to so many jobs and efforts and recurring piles of laundry, I read over 50 books!* How I managed this is a mystery . . . and yet not. I truly cannot keep myself from checking out a book or magazine or CD whenever I visit a library. I visit often.
Then there’s my life-long penchant for padding my numbers with picture books (this proto-cheating behavior was inspired by Summer Reading Challenges at my local libraries wherein every ten books or so won a certificate for a ‘personal pan pizza’ at PizzaHut.) Also, I happen to love picture books and keep my own collection, despite the noticeable lack of children in my house.
So. Here we are in 2017 and I discovered I already had a sizable stack of library materials on loan. (Pictured above.) Way I see it, startin’ the year off right.
*You should see my fanfiction numbers. We’re talking 100s!
Recently I trimmed my To Read list to around 100 books, down from 160. Why? Well, I’ve long been aware of the likeliness I won’t survive it, especially with how I cheat on my list. Prodigiously.
It can be disconcerting to stare your mortality in the mouth with each log-in to a website that is intended to provide hours of . . . you know, nerd-alicious, collect-em-all delight (as well as sell me things. Don’t play coy, social media. We know.)
I’d been telling myself for months, seasons, years, to aggressively trim my To Read list. Only the books I honestly want to read; that I’m likely to. Nothing I’ve already read and wish to read again (count those ‘done’). None of those coquettish frips that briefly turn my gaze during a bookstore browse or library-stack wander, web crawl.
Truly, the browse must be considered the enemy of all tidy, thoughtfully curated To Read lists. The browse will skillfully and blithely seduce your partner, steal your bosom buddies, and convince your parents that honestly?, it would have made a better child.
It’s a home wrecker, the browse. I love it. By which I mean I succumb to it. Often.
Exhibit A as to why my To Read list never got any shorter, no matter how I apply myself to ordering library books online, shortly delivered straight to my grubby paws. (Digital library catalogues are an amazing, boundless, fortuitous magic. If you haven’t yet availed yourself –don’t. There’s no room for you. It’s for ME.)
Borrowing from comedians, I’ve transformed my problem into a punch line: I’m not going to survive my reading list! (Hahah! Lets joke about our deaths.) I know for a fact that I cannot claim a speck of originality. Plenty of people pre-mourn their lives; some even produce clever, pictographic charts that terrify my friends.
The awful truth is, of course, that my Goodreads To Read list is by no means comprehensive. Why? Because I read nearly everything. Blame a life-long habit instilled by my parents. Blame curiosity. Heck, blame the printing press and desktop publishing! Everywhere I go, something to read . . .
Non-exhaustive list of reading
Thankfully, there are also things I don’t read:
What about you? Say you meet your reading list in an alley and, zimbo-bapo!, you magically gain martial arts skillz . . . WHO WILL WIN?!
Of my identities, one of the most commented-upon is city cyclist. I’ve ridden through sun, snow, sleet, 5:30 AM sleepies, whatever. People call me hardcore but I’ve got limits to my desire and ability, though perhaps not what you’d expect (i.e. heavy traffic, extreme cold, the occasional near-monsoon.) It’s more like: I just haven’t been reading enough or, I fell in love with this new podcast. Or I’ve been overwhelmed, yet again, by this unshakable fanfiction habit.
There’s only so much time in a day, right? Work must happen. Laundry folded. Litter boxes cleaned. As well I’ve been experiencing low-grade hip ache (here’s looking at you Cambridge Dance Party; here’s looking at you, late 30s.) So came December 2015, Desmond Puddin’ went down for a bit of a break so I could spend my 45-min morning commute squished between puffy coats on the MBTA Orange Line, wrestling my earbuds into compliance or dragging out a paperback while eyeing just how many of my fellow travelers worship at the shrine of glass/plastic/metal (many!) or paper (more than you’d guess.)
What siren called me off my bike this winter? Thought you’d never ask.
Fav Podcasts/Winter 2016
Another Round – My number #1. Heben and Tracy soothe and validate my inner, lonely high school weird-girl. Real. Honest. With laughter that rivals the breathless contagion of Click & Clack, their energy and synergy are utterly unique. I’ve converted at least five people to this podcast, and counting . . .
Dear Sugar Radio – The Sugars open doors. Together, Cheryl and Steve are compassionate, thoughtful, clever and clear-eyed, often moving the conversation and their advice in a direction you wouldn’t expect. I listen almost as soon as episodes show up in my feed.
FanBros – As a kid, I sometimes watched a TV show simply to listen to the opening theme (yup, Disney’s Gummi Bears). FanBros begins each episode in an equally joyful and compelling fashion, but then I’m happy to experience the rest (unlike aforementioned cartoon). Comics I Copped is one of my favorite segments, and I’m always interested to hear what co-host Tatiana King-Jones brings to the table. Overall, I love the range of ‘black and brown’ voices. Yum.(Also, it’s my secret desire to one day attend a show DJ’ed by BenHaMeen in NYC.)
Black Girl Nerds – Jamie Broadnax keeps me connected to a wide, wide word of nerddom and geekdom (with a focus on the POC experience) that I’d otherwise completely miss.
Reading Lives – You know how magazines and websites feature interviews that ask public personalities about their favorite books? Reading Lives is better. There hasn’t been an episode in a bit, but I hope host Jeff O’Neal brings back this gem.
Popaganda – Feminism and pop culture. I’ve listened to some great essays and been exposed to voices and perspectives I’d otherwise miss via this Bitch Media podcast.
Note to Self – Newest on my podcast feed. First, can I say how much I enjoy Manoush Zomorodi’s speaking voice? I do. The show openly and throughly examines how we live with technology, how we want to. Great production sound.
Fav Reads/Winter 2016
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (illustrator) -appears to be a children’s picture book; is actually a meditation on the mindful life
Revolutionary Petunias by Alice Walker – oh, you know. Some verses from Queen Alice. My favorite poem from the collection: “For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties”. Look it up
Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 & 2 – by G. Willow Wilson – I was surprised into loving this. Tell your daughters, your sisters, your mom! Also, jackalope
Between the World and Me by Ta’neshi Coats – finally made it through the kazillion holds on the audio book at my public library to listen to what everyone, (including an author I most admire), was talking about. Yup. It’s beautiful. It’s painful. It’s good
At My Back by SallyExactly on A03 – a new chapter prompted me to re-read the whole shebang, all 474,300+ words of some of the best, most context-filled, and comprehensive writing about archer-spy Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and spy-assassin Natasha Romanoff/Romonova (Black Widow.). This Avengers fic -breakneck, adventuresome, serious, humorous, artful- is one of the best I’ve read. Ever. This is what comics and superhero tales could be
For the first time in my (admittedly selective; and I don’t manage the selecting) memory, I’m juggling four major writing projects and this blog, which is a long-term effort in its own right. It’s a curious feeling like, at any moment, one project will tumble, ripe from the tree, and some force will pluck it up, cart it off. Well . . . one can hope. And work. And see what happens.
Jacqueline Woodson. If you don’t know her, you should. Not just because she’s one of the premier writers for young people (whose career I’ve followed since I was a high school student), who happens to be African American, who happens to be a New Yorker. Not because her memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014. But because here’s a woman who can answer her some reader-questions.
The first time I saw Ms. Woodson on a tour for her then newly published picture book Show Way, children lined up to ask questions. I was amused. Impressed. A toddler approached the mic in her mother’s arms.
My second experience was at the Cambridge Public Library as part of Cambridge Reads. Children waited patiently in two lines and spoke with bravery, curiosity, clarity, humor, and the desire to know. Be known.
Okay, I thought, this is a thing. In all the author talks, book signings and panels I’ve attended in my 30+ years, I’ve never seen such thoughtful and relentless interest from children as at Woodson events. Is it because Jacqueline speaks to them as she would any person, child or adult? Is it because the first child asked a question that didn’t even touch the perennial ‘where do you get your ideas’, and broke some kind of good-question seal?
In my experience, in mixed groups of adults and children it’s usually the adults who dominate. Not here. Adults stand back: the true creatives have arrived.
Reading #1: Monday, March 12, 2007, 6:30 PM
Jacqueline Woodson’s Author Visit at BPL Connolly Branch (JP) 2007
“This celebrated author of children’s and teen books will discuss some of her work, including her new novel Feathers. The event will include a question and answer session and a book sale and signing (courtesy of Jamaicaway Books). Co-sponsored by the Foundation for Children’s Books. For ages 5 and up.”
Questions (items in parenthesis are my notes):
Reading #2: Wednesday, November 18, 2015, 7:00 PM
Cambridge Reads, November 18, 2015, Fitzgerald Theater, 7:00 PM
“Brown Girl Dreaming—a memoir of the Woodson’s childhood written in verse—is the recipient of the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, the NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award.
Jacqueline Woodson is the author of over two dozen award-winning books for young adults and children, including The Other Side, Each Kindness, Coming on Home Soon, Locomotion, Miracle’s Boys, After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers, and Hush. She is a four-time winner of the Newbery Honor Award, a three-time finalist for the National Book Award, and was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.
Cambridge READS, the Cambridge Public Library’s citywide book club, promotes the love of reading and facilitates community conversations about books. It includes book discussions at the Main Library and its six branches, and culminates in an appearance by the featured author.”
Questions (items in parenthesis are my notes):
Jacqueline concluded here, but there were more kids who attempted to join the line. They could have gone all night.
So. I look at these two lists of questions and my first thought is: whoa, Cambridge. My second thought: these children (thankfully) have not yet perfected the unfortunate art of long-declarative-statement-masquerading-as-question. Third: I didn’t mean to spend the evening typing out questions (with my thumbs, on an iPod) but I couldn’t help myself. They were too good.
And you, faithful WHL reader, get to share the bounty.
Lets talk about sex.
Let’s talk about 1997. A fresh sophomore in college, I’d been noticing a trend. My male peers -more specifically my straight-identified male peers- were increasingly expressing enthusiasm for same sex relationships. More specifically, those of women. Most specifically, women seeking intimacy with one another in the proximity of those same straight men.
Cue suspicion. Cue my late-high school feminist awakening, re-woke. Cue my BS-Spidey sense (TM), and aggravated Black girl loud-sigh+side-eye.
Cough! Fetish. Ahem. Exoticism. Male supremacist co-opting of women and women’s cultures for base, shallow titillation.
And although I didn’t hang with girls who practiced the art of sucking-face-to-garner-male attention, I do remember arguing with guys who wolf-whistled when ladyactors on the boob tube sized one another up. It was triply frustrating (and betraying) when these guys were people I liked and respected.
Leave it to dudes, I groused, to take something not about then, make it about them, and then blast you when you call them on it. Women would never behave that way, I told myself. When would they ever get the opportunity?
Let’s talk about downtown Boston, and junior or senior me. I’m walking (here! Sorry, NYC joke) and before me: two ladies, two guys. There’s some discussion, nervous giggling, but my attention is caught fast when the chortles start. My eyes light on two conservatively-dressed young men reaching to reluctantly . . . hold hands. They keep at for a few paces of encouragement on the part of their girlfriends, then drop and retreat to heteronormative safety.
Huh. Ok. Well.
Let’s talk about being a quarter of the way through Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I laughed to read about the young fanfic authors rewiring their favorite male characters into a relationship. That’s funny, I thought, assuming a one-off, a nod to the ebullient sexuality of teen girls. Nope. Didn’t stop there.
Finally, let’s talk about fanfiction. About a world of terms new to my 30-something self. (Shipping, anyone? Get Spock? OTP? Schmoop?) About what appears to be hundreds (thousands?) of hobby writers penning same sex smut featuring bizarre, hilarious, and otherwise unlikely pairings. (Lets side-whisper about how those pairing are largely male. Hmm. Lets read into that.) Not romance, nor erotica, but scads of smut. Enough to make the Library of Congress faint (perhaps; if the Library collects Tweets, it’s likely no innocent).
What does this tell me? I was in college for the beginning of the Internet as we currently know it, but I understand now that some of my cis-gendered ladypeers, silent in the face of dudepeers’ leering and sexist assumptions, headed back to their dorms after a dinner of butter pasta and Lucky Charms marshmallow-topped ice cream to type for hours about Harry or Scully or Dawson getting it on with overwritten Mary Sams.
So yes. Sexism. Lets talk about that. Long before I paid attention to fanzines or fandoms or fanhood, I’d heard dismissive, disgusted jokes about the Twilight-inspired fic-turned-book, 50 Shades of Gray. This ‘novel’, I was to understand on the occasions I heard someone speak on it, featured awful ‘writing’ and horrid BDSM (sorry, not gonna link to that wiki-page). Lots of it. Too much.
I haven’t read Shades (actually, I have, but a different one), but having perused the sometimes shocking virtual shelves of fanfiction (oh, no. I can’t unsee that!), I’ve begun to draw inferences and assume causation in that way so-human (animal?) and I suspect misogyny behind the loud, plentiful mocking.
There blooms the question: who owns sex? Sexuality? Who gets noticed? Upon whom are awards heaped for gender-defining (or perhaps gender confirming) research? Who writes the columns? The NYT pieces? Who develops the rules around moral code and ethical behavior?
Who designs the bras at Victoria’s Secret and then pumps college mailboxes full of circulars and come-hither coupons for instant desirability? (As long as you’re long-legged, trim-hipped, pert-boobed, and straight-haired.)
And who let loose that wily imp, the Internet, to wreak havoc on consumption’s status quo while creating a modus operandi yet to sit still long enough for anybody to get a good grasp. I’ll be the first to claim you can’t see it while you’re in it. (I’ll be the second to say I didn’t research a lick to write this opinion piece, so don’t forget to inoculate with salt.)
I’ll be the third to say: lets talk. Fanfiction . . . whoa! Lots to see (think/suspect/run from/study/celebrate) here. Stay tuned for more*.
*Hastily curated museum of grow-some-patience idioms from my ’80s/’90s childhood.
Exhibit A: But you don’t have take my word for it.
Exhibit B: You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.
Exhibit D: Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
Here’s where we start. As Julie Andrews states: the very beginning.
Actually, that’s not the beginning. Because the very beginning, for me, was the Fellowship of the Ring. Penny of Inspector Gadget. Martin of Redwall. Batman the Animated Series. Robotech. McGyver. Ember of Elfquest. Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Creations not-mine which I absorbed, which became part of how I move in the world, how I view it.
Enter Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Book I spotted top-shelf in the Portland Oregon’s Multnomah Public Library, which I didn’t read until I checked it out during a visit to the East Boston Library. I fell into that book in a big way and this prompted me to notice the chasm of fanfiction. I leaned over the edge to peer into sparkling depths, tripped . . . and the rest is millions and millions of words read, thoughts expressed rabidly enthusiastically to whatever poor fool whomever wandered near, and ruminations as to whether I should give up all my other aspirations and go back to college to study this shocking, new (to me, but not to the world) art form.
Reading as a writer is always an interesting experience, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say on the subject, but through the lens of fanfiction, I can say I’ve discovered:
Reading fanfic has prompted me to go back and revisit my younger artist-self. I learned young that, for art to have validity or be of note, it had to be original. Conversely, as I grew older, I learned nothing is original. What’s an art-maker to do, squished beneath this smothering contradiction?
I believe people embracing “transformative works” via consumption and encouragement allows legitimacy to bloom. Thus, for all of my selves – kid, teen, adult – a gate lifted, one I hadn’t realized I was living behind. I see in these works a conversational reflection: I see you/I see what you’re making/I respond/you respond. Echoing rings of ideas connecting the originator, the receptive enthusiast, and the audiences of both.
Now, I understand copyright exists for a reason. We grew it to place protections around intellectual and artistic property. I don’t have quarrel with that. This is what first shocked me about fanfiction -all that writing, all those words, for FREE, because they must be (otherwise, illegal.) And, as with much of life, when money is pulled from the equation, the outcome morphs -not necessarily into something better, but into something different, creative, interesting. Such as Captain American falling in love with Ironman. Apparently. But that’s a curiosity for another blog post.
For now, I’ll share a few of the stories that so opened my mind (all are safe-for-work, some have swearing and violence)(also, there’s intense stuff in many fics out there; be cautious/take care of yourself when reading):
What have you got against Denny’s? (Cap and Thor lured by America’s cheap eats)
Brother-friends stuck in a cabin with a sock-stealing cat (Legolas and Aragorn struggle to survive a mishap, incomplete)
Don’t hang out with Deadpool, ’cause whoa (Poor Hawkeye; yikes)
My Venn diagram will EAT yours (!!! & Ironman)
So! More to say on this subject later, particularly about gender (such as: why do the stories Phoebe spotlights here center around white male protagonists? hmmm), sexuality, voice, and themes I’ve noticed that seem to span what I’ve read. Meantime, happy reading, and watch out for the edge of that cliff. It’s a doozy.
This rainy week in Boston reminds me of another rainy week.
It was fall. My partner and I had the day off and what better way to spend it than exploring the library? Particularly a new branch. Not just new to us, but new to the network.
Walk through the community garden, up the stairs, past the porch, and enter East Boston Public Library‘s spacious, one-room(ish) affair with clever, moveable elements and variety to appeal to all types of users.
Gray thought it may be outside, inside this fresh, welcoming branch is sun and surprises.
In a recent assignment I created for my writer’s group, I asked members to identify their favorite beginnings and endings. Readymade blogpost, what-what?!
Select/identify three to five of your favorite beginning and/or ending sentences from books, articles, poems, what have you. What moves you about each?
“I can’t believe you’ve come back
Like the train I missed so badly, barely
Which stopped and returned for me. It scared me
Humming backwards along the track.” – sonnet by Brenda Shaughnessy, “Rise” –love the imagery & sensuality, the “meet-cute” of the mundane & the shocking
“She was not someone’s sister, she was not someone’s child. She was Dolores, and Dolores was the good guys.” – Bruce Brooks – Dolores: Seven Stories About Her –I think this is the best summarization of a character; the tone of these two lines has inspired several characters in my own novels
“Peace, tremulous, unexpected, sent a taproot out of nowhere into Morgan’s heart.” –Patricia McKillip – Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy –This quote appears, unbidden, in my thoughts on a regular basis and has deeply influenced what I think an ending should be
“It was only then that Burl noticed that someone found him a real pair of shoes. They seemed quite new, and they fit him well.” –Tim Wynne-Jones – The Maestro – says so little, says so much, I ♥ the practical
So how about you, my friend? Begs & Ends?