For Towel Day, a Fun Animated Clip of Douglas Adams on the Invention of the Book

Happy Towel Day! Here’s hoping you’re having a good one. I’m finally getting back down to some writing again—I had a bit of a hold-up this week but am getting back on track! Anyway, here’s a bit of fun for you, Douglas Adams on the invention of the book with animation by Gavin Edwards.  The animation is fantastic,  and Douglas Adams (a proponent of technology and among the first hypertext and transmedia experimental writers) is charming, funny, and quite prophetic about how we would come to use e-books.

 
I’ll be back tomorrow with a new feminist Friday post, and keep your eyes open for some more guest posts in that series in the coming weeks. I’ll also be writing about some of these other books I’ve been reading and shows I’ve been watching. In the meantime, always remember your towel!

 

Top 10 Tuesday: My Favorite Horror Stories

Each week, The Broke and the Bookish holds Top Ten Tuesday, a book blogging meme. It’s been quite a while since I’ve joined in, but I’ve decided to bring the feature back to the Monster. I always enjoy creating reading lists and discussing them in the comments sections. This week, I’m listing my favorite horror stories. Feel free to leave your suggestions and additions in the comments section, and go visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Halloween-themed book lists!

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Monster Monday: The Cuckoo

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Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series gives us both heroes and villains, monsters and gods. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide on any real classification. And sometimes the most interesting of characters are only on the page for a brief time, for a snapshot of their brief lives. Not many of the monsters can make me shudder in quite the way that the Cuckoo can, though–not even the Corinthian, and that’s saying something since the Corinthian has teeth for eyes.

The Cuckoo appears in A Game of You, the fifth story arc of the series. And while many classify this as their least favorite of the bunch, it ranks among my favorites. The story is inventive, and beautiful, and grotesque, and problematic. The characters are vivid and flawed and brave and vulnerable. And it’s all a game, a game of identity. A game of you, quite literally.

Barbie is locked out of her dreams, unable to return to the Land, the dreamworld where she reigns as Princess Barbara. And her dreamworld is in terrible danger from a mysterious monster called the Cuckoo, who has taken over in the absence of the princess. Barbie is visited in the waking world by Martin Tinbones, a giant dog from the Land who has come to find her; just as he gives her an amulet which he calls the Porpentine, he is shot and killed by police.

The Porpentine returns Barbie to her dreamworld, where she is greeted by several of its inhabitants and sent on a quest to put an end to the Cuckoo. Back in the apartment, where Barbie’s unconscious body rests, one of her neighbors is revealed to have been recruited by the Cuckoo–he releases a flock of nightmare birds that are only stopped when Thessaly (another denizen of the apartment and a powerful witch) kills him. Thessaly divines the threat of the Cuckoo (by using George’s innards) and summons the moon (using menstrual blood), after which she travels to the Land with Hazel and Foxglove, who also live in the apartment building. Their neighbor Wanda is left to watch over Barbie’s unconscious body. (All of this gets a little complicated because Wanda is a transgender woman left behind because she isn’t “technically” a woman–the implications of which are big and problematic and sad.)

While in the Land, Barbie embarks on a quest to find the Cuckoo and restore order. She finally comes to the Cuckoo’s citadel–which looks just like Barbie’s childhood home. And then child-Barbie runs up to adult-Barbie, revealing herself to be the Cuckoo. Or at least, some version of herself. The Cuckoo, it seems, was born from Barbie’s childhood imaginings and fantasies, and she has become a kind of parasitic entity. She was Barbie’s imaginary friend as a child, and when she was discarded, she became tied to Barbie’s dreamworld. Barbie’s companions on her journey and Martin Tenbones are actually versions of Barbie’s discarded childhood toys, and Barbie’s dreamworld is a kind of simulation of her childhood.

reckoningThe Cuckoo bewitches Barbie, who agrees to help the Cuckoo destroy the Land by allowing the Cuckoo to kill her. She’s not satisfied with her home in the Land…She wants to be free to fly away. Destroying the dream will allow her to fly away and plant versions of herself in the thousands of other dreamworlds that exist. When Thessaly, Hazel, and Foxglove arrive to save Barbie and confront the Cuckoo, they are temporarily tricked into thinking that the Cuckoo is Luz (one of Barbie’s toys and a companion on her adventure through the Land who turns out to be a spy for the Cuckoo), and Thessaly kills Luz. Barbie destroys the Hierogram and the Porpentine, which summons Morpheus, who un-creates the Land and its inhabitants. Barbie is granted a boon from Morpheus, and she uses it to ensure the safe return of herself, Thessaly, Foxglove, and Hazel to the waking world.

Against Thessaly’s wishes, the Cuckoo is allowed to fly away freely. So, what became of the Cuckoo? Who can say? Probably she’s in another dreamworld, on another dream island.

Monday Re-Rerun: 13 Bookish Confessions

1. I have to read things in a sequence. If there’s a Book 1, then I must read it before I read Book 2. This even goes for books that could theoretically stand-alone.

2. I think you can learn a lot about a person by what they’re reading. But I think you can learn even more about a person (and what they think of others) from the books they give as presents.

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3. I also have a very difficult time not finishing a book. If I start it, I have to know what happens.

4. My favorite book when I was a wee tot was a Golden Book, Where’s Goldie.

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5. I have a really difficult time reading more than one book at a time. I have always had that problem, even when I was in school. It meant studying had to be carefully scheduled. Now it’s not so bad—I just devour one and move on to another.

6. I absolutely judge books by their covers.

7. I read every single part of a book—the dedication, epigram, introduction, copy, epilogue, acknowledgments, author bio, appendices–if it’s in there, I’m reading it. Unless it’s a reading club guide. Then probably not.

8. Books rarely make me cry or laugh aloud. That’s not to say that I don’t get emotional when I’m reading, because I do. I just don’t tend to manifest those emotions.

9. I’ve had a crush on more than one book character in my lifetime. But none of them have been Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen.

10. If I were a dragon, I would hoard books.

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11. I’ve had to learn to like nonfiction, but I now have a serious appreciation for it. I don’t read biographies often, but I do enjoy books on culture and memoirs.

12. I think children’s literature is some of the most powerful and important literature being published.

13. I enjoyed the time I spent picking apart, analyzing, and writing about books as a grad student. I think it made both my reading and writing skills far sharper than they otherwise might’ve been. That said, I don’t miss required reading.

Review: The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.

Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree might just be the best new book I’ve read this year…And I’ve read a lot of books, many of them Very Good Books. But Hardinge’s novel had me from the moment I read about its premise, and a few days after finishing, it still hasn’t let me go.

At the start of Hardinge’s novel, we find ourselves following fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family as they leave their home and travel to the small island of Vane, where her father and her Uncle Miles are set to join an excavation dig. The year is 1864. We–and Faith–quickly begin to discover that All is Not Well–there may be one or many ulterior motives to the family’s sudden departure from home and arrival on vane, including rumors that some of her father’s greatest finds may have been forgeries. Faith has an insatiable hunger for knowledge–knowledge that is forbidden to her because of her youth and her sex. It is this desire that leads her to her father’s journals and then to the Mendacity Tree, a strange plant that grows when it is fed lies, bearing fruits that uncover truths.

If it sounds wondrous and bizarre, that’s because it is. The premise alone excited me…And then I started reading. Faith Sunderly is maybe one of my favorite girl characters in young adult fiction, and she’s got some rather stiff competition. Faith is everything a girl is not supposed to be in 1864…Clever, curious, passionate, headstrong, and impatient. Time and again, what she wants comes into conflict with what is expected of her, and watching her learn to navigate those waters is fascinating.

Hardinge is really adept at depicting Faith’s interiority despite the 3rd person narration, and the 3rd person narration allows the narrator to make a lot of observations about femininity. Faith’s mother is a flirt and a beauty, using her looks and class to get what she wants. She stands in stark contrast not just to Faith’s father, whose reason and intellect are what drive him, but also to many of the other women in the novel. Watching Faith learn to navigate those separations is the real joy of the novel.

The book does take a while to get going properly, but in its defense, the set-up is rather complex. There are quite a few characters, many of them eventually becoming Pertinent to the Plot, and because the beginning of the novel is fleshed out in this way, the characters are mostly round rather than flat, and the increasingly complex truths that are revealed bear more significance than they might otherwise.

I’m honestly afraid to say too much more for fear of giving away things that are best discovered in the novel itself, but expect me to pop up with more to say about Faith eventually. I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite moments from the book, a realization that Faith has about her mother and about womanhood:

She is just a perfectly sensible snake, protecting her eggs and making her way in the world as best she can.

Monday Re-Run: Reading with Wild Things

Last night, we read Biscuit and The Color Kittens and Where the Wild Things Are. Sometimes it’s Clifford or Ninja Turtles or Goodnight, Moon.

The little Jedi at 4

I read banned books. And I read them to my son.

I say this loudly. I wear it like a badge. I write it.

But why?

Because books teach us empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and open innumerable worlds. Because books allow someone who we might never meet, perhaps because they’re on the other-side of the world and perhaps because they’ve been dead 200 years, to speak to us. Because books create a multiplicity of voices in a world that pushes master narratives. Because books show us the capacity of our language. Because there’s pleasure in the forbidden.

Because learning to read and having the freedom to decide what to read are freedoms that have been denied many people based on their gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. Because one of the tools of oppression is banning literature and language.

And so, I read. I gobble up books. And I’m trying to teach Little Jedi to do the same.

I’ve been reading out loud to him since he was in utero. I’d often read sections of my thesis materials, both my research and my own writing, aloud. And then, when he was born and spent 5 weeks in the NICU, I read aloud to him during visits. And so did his grandparents. We kept books in his part of the unit, and we’d sit in a rocking chair, draped in our hospital gowns to cover our clothes. Sometimes he’d be swaddled and held while we were reading; sometimes we would read aloud through the incubator where he slept. Tiny Jedi on the night of his birth

There was so little we could do for him. But we could read.

So we did. And as he grew a little older, left that place behind, learned to walk, started to speak and think and act, the stories changed. But they were there. They have always been there.

We laugh when Max chases the little white dog at the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are. Max’s dog looks a lot like our little terrier/border collie mix, Tank. But the first time we read it, Little Jedi stopped at that place and said, rather solemnly, “he shouldn’t chase that dog with a fork.” No, Little Jedi, Max should probably not be chasing that dog with a fork. But little boys do sometimes chase their dogs, and they do sometimes run about with things they shouldn’t.

Then, when Max’s room becomes a forest, we’re both always in a bit of wide-eyed appreciation. Sendak’s art is just so good. And when the Wild Things rumpus, Little Jedi usually has a good rumpus as well. But not last night. He was tired, so tired, and he wondered how Max knew the Wild Things didn’t love him best of all, and why they didn’t give Max anything to eat, and whether there wasn’t one with wings to just fly Max back home.

And as always, the return home was Little Jedi’s triumphant moment. More than any other part of the book, he loves the last page, that page empty save the 5 words: “…and it was still hot.” There’s something about that return home and a warm supper waiting for Max that just makes Little Jedi incredibly happy.

And so it makes me happy. I get to talk to Little Jedi about all sorts of things, from monsters to forests to love to running about the house with a fork, and I get to do it by reading him this book that was written in 1963. This book that was already 21, old enough to drink, when I was born, that spawned my own questions about good and bad and monsters and love.

wild thingWhere the Wild Things Are typifies the things that are often banned or challenged about children’s books: a depiction of rage or complex feelings; monsters and/or talking animals; magic; scariness. But the world is already a scary place, and children already have complex emotions. Monsters exist, even if they don’t look like the ones Sendak drew.

Books give us ways to encounter our monsters without cost. They open the doors for conversations. They provide continuity between human experiences when there seems to be none. To ban a book is to silence a voice, to close off a line of thinking and inquiry, to shut out what is difficult and thus what might be most rewarding.

Don’t shut out the Wild Things. Invite them in. Live with them. Read them.

(This post originally ran in September 2014 as a part of the Banned Books Blog Party at Things Matter. Since then, my husband–who knows me so very well–bought me an anniversary present in the form of tattoos, Max on one arm and a Wild Thing on the other. We’ve read Where the Wild Things Are and so many, many more books with Little Jedi. Sometimes he reads to us now. Life mimics art mimics life.)