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!

 

The Enduring Legacy of Black History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from a Harry Parsons, who I am excited to have posting here for the first time. Harry is the content manager at Arcadia Publishing. While he spends most of his time being a bookworm, he enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.

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It’s time once again to celebrate Black History Month. Also known as National African American History Month, Black History Month is a month-long period during which we celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans everywhere.

America would quite simply not be the nation we know and love without the contributions of its black citizens, making a time to acknowledge that fact vitally important.

However, there’s a lot the average person might not know about Black History Month. When did it start and how did it come to be? What are the most important benefits of celebrating it and what are some of the best ways to participate if you’re so inclined? Here we’ll explore the enduring legacy of one of the most important periods of the year.

The Origins of Black History Month

Black History Month as we know it today has its origins in a previous event called Negro History Week. Negro History Week was established in 1926 and took place during the second week of February since that week coincided with the birthdates of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It was established by noted historian Carter G. Woodson.

The expansion of the event into a month-long celebration wouldn’t occur until 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford made the change. According to Ford, it was time for the country as a whole to really embrace the opportunity to honor its black citizens and their accomplishments, as both are all too often overlooked.

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The Benefits of Celebrating Black History Month

Of course, Black History Month has had its share of critics (both black and non-black) over the years, especially around the time of its establishment. Some people considered it unfair to set aside an entire month to the celebration of a single social group. Others argued that the celebration of black history should be an “all the time” affair and that limiting the event to only one month gave people permission to neglect the concept the rest of the year.

However, regardless of the objections or possible drawbacks associated with the concept of Black History Month, it’s clear that it does more good than harm. Black history is, in effect, American history, and no study of our great nation can be considered complete without it. The following are just a few of the many benefits of commemorating it:

  1. Celebrating properly honors historic members of the black community.

Celebrating Black History Month encourages us to commemorate, discuss, and contemplate numerous iconic members of the black community. Examples include civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, gifted speakers like Frederick Douglass, and activists like Sojourner Truth. We already set aside special days or periods to honor American presidents, visionaries, and thinkers. Why not brave, inspiring members of the black community as well?

  1. Celebrating helps every new generation appreciate the privileges they enjoy.

Although it goes without saying that there’s still a lot still to be done when it comes to bettering race relations in America, it’s also worth noting just how much progress has already been made. Setting aside time to talk about the past and honor the people that have made change possible ensures that their sacrifices will never be taken for granted.

  1. Celebrating helps us shine a spotlight on the best parts of black culture.

Black History Month is an opportunity to highlight the very best of black culture, like inspirational leaders, artists, visionaries, teachers, and community pillars of all types. The accomplishments of African American carry global and national significance.

  1. Celebrating helps raise awareness in regards to important issues.

The topic of American history is a vast one, to be sure. That said, it’s not uncommon for important aspects of black history (like the civil rights movement) to be reduced to mere footnotes in the grand scheme of things. Black History Month gives everyone a chance to learn more about people, events, and places of which they may not have much awareness previously.

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Celebrating Black History Month in Style

Of course, deciding that it’s important to celebrate Black History Month is one thing. Deciding how to celebrate is another. The following ideas should give you some good food for thought.

  1. Start a discussion.

Consider celebrating Black History Month together as a family this year. Have each child and adult choose an iconic African-American person, organization, or group (i.e., the Negroes Baseball League or the Tuskegee Air Men) to study, honor, and research at the beginning of the month. Then get together at the end of the month to share everything you’ve all learned with one another.

  1. Plan a soul food feast.

Food is probably everyone’s favorite way to celebrate a special occasion. Why not make it a part of your Black History Month celebration as well? “Soul food” is a term that was coined in the 1960s to describe a cuisine based on the traditional West African diet. Common ingredients in soul food include sorghum, rice, okra, and more.

Consider learning more about the origins of soul food as a family and then preparing a feast to enjoy together. Dishes to focus on include but are not limited to collard greens, sweet potatoes, grits, cornbread, fried chicken, southern barbecue, and chicken and waffles.

  1. Feed your head.

Nothing beats reading when it comes to building a true appreciation for a given topic, and black history is no exception. Make it a point to read up on African American history this February with biographies about famous black figures, classic novels by and about black people, and so forth.

Alternatively, choose one or more regional history or local interest books that focus on black communities, neighborhoods, and local heroes in your own home town or area of origin. What better way to place what you’ve been learning in a context you can relate to?

At the end of the day, there are lots of ways you can honor and celebrate the contributions of African Americans this February. Just make sure you do celebrate. You’ll be glad you did.

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: Maleficent

Maleficent might just be one of my favorite Disney villains–and really one of my favorite villains, period. She’s certainly monstrous, a dark fairy with a name that quite literally means “evil” or “harm” and a secondary title as “Mistress of all Evil.” But she’s also incredibly refreshing, a female character who, in the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, demands to be seen and heard, while the heroine is quite literally asleep for the majority of the action.

Of course, Maleficent wasn’t always such a favorite. When I was a child, I remember watching Sleeping Beauty and either going into another room entirely or hiding my face behind a pillow while she was in dragon form, stomping around and breathing that strange, lime green fire. I mean, look, y’all, in the 1959 animated film she was scary as shit, sending lightning and fire after the prince, turning into a huge monster, calling on all the powers of hell in her fight to keep Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip apart. The fantastic voice acting from Eleanor Audley (who also voiced Cinderella‘s Lady Tremaine, and who reportedly influenced much of the character design for Maleficent, including some of her mannerisms and facial expressions) added to the overall feel of the character, and certainly so did the design of the character–tall and elegant and very, very cold.

I found Maleficent’s anger and malice confusing and unsettling. She was an adult who got angry about not being invited to a party, then decided to take out her anger on the infant Aurora. Sure, the party was for Aurora’s christening. But Aurora herself didn’t make out the invitations, obviously, and yet she bears the brunt of Maleficent’s punishment for the perceived offenses.

Maleficent first blesses, then curses Aurora–she will grow in beauty and grace, but on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle, and she will die. One of the kinder fairies still hasn’t presented her gift, and while she is unable to lift the curse entirely, she is able to change the death sentence into that of a long, deep sleep. Of course, given the time period during which the film is set, not inviting a prominent person from the area to such a grand occasion as a christening would’ve been a major insult, but whether or not it would’ve resulted in bloodshed is debatable. I’ve long been curious, too, about what kind of past she had with King Stefan and the Queen, suspecting that Aurora’s christening can’t have been the beginning of the problem.

And then I started studying literature, found myself quite interested in folklore and fairy tales, and I looked up some of the source texts for Disney’s version of the film. The film was based on old stories, much as Cinderella and many of the other Golden Age films were. It can be difficult to trace fairly tales and folklore, and the tales themselves are, in general, easier identified by type than by precise plot and characters. And there are many, many different versions of the Sleeping Beauty story, reaching back at least as far as the early 17th century, likely much farther.

There’s generally a slighted fairy in these tales–in the Perrault version of the tale, the fairy is not invited because she hasn’t left her home in many years and is thought dead, and in the Grimms’ version, she is generally (there are a few versions, actually) not invited because the king and queen quite literally don’t have enough place settings. In Basile version from the 17th century, there is no Maleficent figure–the princess is simply very unlucky. In none of those versions, though, is the slighted fairy the true antagonist of the tale. Instead, the Basile authored version casts a jealous queen as the villainess–after the king impregnates the princess in her sleep (yes, ew) and she gives birth to twins, the queen tries to kill her. In the Perrault tale, the true villain is the princess’s mother-in-law, who tried to kill her and the children. But in the Grimms’ tales and in the Tchaikovsky ballet, the villainness is much closer to that of the Disney films.

But in the more recent, live-action film Maleficent (2014), the details are changed up a bit, mostly to allow for some rehabilitation of the character. The film begins when Maleficent is a child, a young fairy who falls in love with a young peasant boy, a human named Stefan. But Stefan eventually betrays Maleficent, cutting off her wings in order to win favor with the king and secure his place as the future king. In the years after the betrayal, Maleficent develops her distinct style, wearing all black and fashioning a staff that also functions as cane, as the loss of her wings has changed her sense of balance and equilibrium significantly. And when she does curse Aurora, it is only with a long, deep sleep–never with the threat of death. In many ways, the film doesn’t just rehabilitate Maleficent–it de-fangs her entirely. Gone is her dragon form: rather than turning into a dragon, she turns her raven into a dragon. Gone is the overt sense of malice: instead, it is clear that she is reacting to pain and trauma.

So is Maleficent a monster? Maybe it just depends on the version of her you’re looking at, the lens you’re looking through.

The Princess Bride: Book Vs. Film

When I was fairly young, my dad decided to rent The Princess Bride (1987). Back then, we had one of those huge, wood-encased TVs, and we lived too far out of the small town that I grew up the-princess-bride-posterin to get cable TV at our house. Instead, we had this huge satellite in our yard and a box on the TV that would turn the satellite, allowing us to get an additional two channels–bringing us to a grand total of four channels. But we had a VHS player, and there was a local video store. Fridays were “stay up late nights,” and my dad and I would rent a movie or two.

My dad’s predilection for romantic comedies with happy endings makes me think he chose the movie, but it could’ve been one of my siblings. The thing is–I don’t remember seeing it for the first time. I just remember loving it. I doubt I chose The Princess Bride the first time I watched it, but I remember choosing it many times after that.

It wasn’t until 2003, though, that I realized The Princess Bride was based on a book published The Princess Bride 30th Anniversary Edition_2in 1973. I was wandering through a bookstore, a sophomore college student hunting for summer reading, when I saw a display of the 30th anniversary edition. I think I probably let out an audible laugh as I picked it up. And I let out a lot more laughs as I read the novel. I’m hard-pressed to tell you whether I prefer the novel or the film. Though there are some key differences, they retain the same basic plot.

The Story:

Buttercup and Westley fall in love. They are parted as Wesley goes to earn his fortune; Buttercup is betrothed to Prince Humperdink after Westley fails to return for several years. Huperdink arranges for Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo to capture and kill her to start a war; Westley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts, steals Buttercup back from the group. But Buttercup and Westley are lost in the Fire Swamp, after which they are captured by the Prince. Wesley is killed but then rescued and revived by Fezzik and Inigo; the group escapes on the night Buttercup is supposed to be married.

Film Versus Book:

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Perhaps the biggest change from book-to-film is the frame story. Both frame stories involve the book being read aloud, but the frame story in the novel is more elaborate. In the novel, we are introduced to the story as an abridged version of a longer work by S. Morgenstern. We’re led to believe that Goldman bought the book for his son, not realizing that he enjoyed the story because his father read it aloud, skipping the boring parts. This is supposed to be Goldman’s abridged, only-the-good-parts version. And that makes for really good reading—we get moments that Goldman is able to satirize the publishing industry, question the literary canon, and explore just what the differences are between what kids enjoy and what adults enjoy (if there are any).

That frame is partially eliminated in the film. What we get instead is a grandfather reading a story to a sick little boy. The retention of a frame works to keep us considering the film as a text (and really, that’s one of the most important functions of the original frame story). We’re aware that it’s all made up, and every time the film stops so that the grandfather and young boy can talk, we’re thrown back into that realization.

In addition, the back-stories of the characters are mostly simplified or lost in the film. Naturally, this has to happen. Goldman’s book is a bit lengthy, with a sprawling cast of Princess Bride_3characters and events that occur over time. On film, the simplifications work to provide a cohesive visual story that works within the also simplified frame. Fezzik and Inigo are both given fuller back-stories in the novel, rendering them more fully fleshed out characters. In the film, it is enough to know that they are with Vizzini and to know that Inigo’s father was killed by the six-fingered man. The book, in addition, gives us more reason for the conflict between Florin and Guilder, as Prince Humperdink feels tricked when he discovers that his betrothed, princess of Guilder, is bald.

The love story between Buttercup and Westley is also simplified. In the novel, Buttercup realizes that she loves Westley after becoming jealous of the way the visiting Countess Rugen looks at him, and she tells him, only to have the door slammed in her face. He of course informs her soon after that he does love her but must go and make his fortune first. In the film, this is simplified to Buttercup realizing Westley’s love one day when he says “as you wish” and the two professing their love before he leaves to seek his fortune.

Vizzini’s plot to capture and kill Buttercup and Westley’s pursuit of the group are almost identical in film and book. The film has Fezzik knock Buttercup unconscious; in the novel it is Vizzini. The group notices the ship’s pursuit before Buttercup throws herself overboard in the film; in the book the group notices the ship after Buttercup is returned to the boat. The film has shrieking eels; the novel has sharks. During the sword fight, Inigo is able to wound princess-bride-westley-and-buttercup-8476325-1280-720Westley in the book, but in the film he is not able to. Vizzini’s death is much the same in both versions. And the pacing of the swamp scene is faster in the film version, the couple barreling toward Prince Humperdink.

In another large change, the book’s Zoo of Death is replaced by the Pit of Despair. In the book, one of the first things we learn about Prince Humperdink is that he’s an avid hunter. The Zoo of Death is a 5-story building full of dangerous animals; Humperdink kills one of them a day. In the novel, when Westly is caught by Prince Humperdink, he is sent into the Zoo of Death. He is tortured for a month or more before being finished off by the Machine. In the film, he is instead thrown into the Pit of Despair, attended
by the albino, is only hooked up to The Machine, and his torture only seems to last a day or two. This vastly simplifies Westley’s rescue, as Fezzik and Inigo only have to walk in to retrieve Westley rather than fight through 5 levels of creatures.

The visit with Miracle Max retains its book form, though the film makes a small change by not mentioning the 1 hour limit that the novel places upon the miracle pill. In each version, though, Westely manages to remain alive, fight Humperdink, and leave him tied up, and retrieve Inigo (who has gotten revenge on the six fingered Count who killed his father), Fezzik, and Buttercup, and the group escapes on horseback.

The Verdict:

I find it difficult to choose between the two. The nostalgia that I experience when I watch the film gives it big ups. And the quotable quotes are everywhere. Rob Reiner masterfully directed, and the film had the bonus of having the novel writer as its screen adapter. But the entertainment of Goldman as an editor in the novel’s frame story is difficult to match, and I miss the back stories of Fezzik and Inigo when we lose them in the film. So the film wins, but only by a small margin. If you haven’t I seriously suggest checking out this book—it’s well worth the time, and you’ll probably laugh out loud.

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*Note: This post initially appeared as a contest entry for The Artistic Christian’s Summer Blogging Challenge (And it won! :D). It gets a re-post today as part of the Princess Bride Linkup Party at WriteOnSisters.

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.

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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.)