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13 posts from December 2007

December 31, 2007

Ten Good Things about 2007

More lists. I have lots of year-turn listiness, just like everyone else.

Let's be honest: 2007 sucked for me. It wasn't a good year. But in the name of positivity and not being such a bummer all the time (a resolution for 2008?) I'm going to list at least 10 things, personal or general, that were good about 2007. Please overlook if they actually happened in 2006.

1. I now have health insurance. It's not Heaven, but it's a fairly cool thing to have, especially when pulling out your credit card to pay for those life-giving pharmaceuticals you depend on.

2. Charlie the obese cat lost four (count 'em, 4!) pounds on the strict and consistent diet I put him on this year. This was just confirmed by a visit to the vet today. He had lost two by July, and another 2 or 2.5 in the second half of the year. This is good on many levels. If I can impose discipline on a cat when I'm having a bummer year, then maybe I can impose discipline on myself. Plus, no diabetes for Charlie (maybe ... he still has another two or three pounds to go, the fatness.) Plus, Charlie in general is an unmitigated good.

3. Having conversations with my niece, who is now officially a Young Lady.

4. Watching Hillary Clinton's campaign go from pie-in-the-sky to A Real, Strong Possibility. This time last year, I was yelling at my parents and everybody else I know for parroting that self-fulfilling prophecy/received notion "I like Hillary but she can't win." I haven't heard that idiocy in at least nine months. Go team Hillary. Does this mean the Democratic party has stopped being utterly incompetent?

5. My friends. I take them somewhat for granted, but my friends kick everybody else's friends' asses. I've hung out with your friends, people, and I don't like them as much as mine. I have better friends than you. I would be lost and friendless without them. Literally. This includes not-historically-so-close friends whom I have become closer to this year, for reasons I shall not elaborate on, except to say that there was more room on my attention plate this year than in previous years, hallelujah.

6. The Whole Foods store that opened up near my house. I'm sorry, but yummy, expensive, foodie food rocks.

7. Lake Merritt. Birds, people, birds. The smell of brine, the birds floating on top, fighting the current. The fluffy egrets and honky gooses. The shrieking little kids, making a hole in the sea o' birds. The wondrous bird, the pelican, whose beak can hold more than its ... you know. Herons. Seagulls cracking molluscs by dropping them from a great height. Beautiful jogging men. Not necessarily in that order.

8. My parents, who are getting old and creaky, but are still my parents. They're repeating themselves in earnest, but they're still sweet. Plus, they give good Christmas present.

9. Trip to the Philippines. Exciting and fun and interesting. There are two more trips planned next year ... maybe more. Travel with a purpose is definitely good.

10. My new red bike with wicker basket. 'Nuff said.

11. New job skillz learned, despite the tedium of my job. That, in fact, is a job skill. Yes, it's good. I insist.

12. Reading, which is still good. Very.

13. Being able to watch TV on the internet, which in itself is good, although a lack of discipline may make it seem ungood.

14. Buncha people getting married this year, and starting to have babies. Here's to life moving on, and people (not me) giving up their eternal young-adulthood for ... other stages.

That's more than ten. Hallelujah! A good year!

reading Update

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

What a mess. There's some satisfaction in the resolution of the trilogy, especially in the emotion with which it is infused. But I long ago gave up on caring about all the millions of characters Pullman introduced in the second and third book. There were simply too many povs, and I kept losing track of the story because we'd have to switch away from one track for so long to follow the others.

The lesson here? When writing series, you have to have an energy/matter conservation thing with regard to characters. You can introduce new characters, but only if you somehow disable the old ones, either by killing them off, or by sending them off to do something else, away from all the action, until the grand finale when they get to share the spoils with everyone else.

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce

Lovely and Delightful, just like everyone says. A major lesson in worldbuilding here. The world is very different, but unlike most Delightful and Quirky secondary worlds, the differences are more than just superficial, more than merely metaphorical. They run underground and come out in funky places. The world is alive, and feels like a distinctly different place. Plus, it's great to live in Califa and read about its alternate reality. I'll never look at the Cliff House the same way again.

December 28, 2007

Reading Update

I feel like I've missed some books in my reading update, but perhaps I've just been watching too much TV.

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman.

Both re-reads. I find that Compass holds up very well. I remember a great deal of it, and a lot of images from it as well, although not the main plot resolution. Knife, not so much. It's kind of a mess, doesn't have the same high impact imagery, suffers from too-many-parallel-worlds syndrome, has too many bad guys, none of whom actually matter, and is more of a doorstop than a plot.

I'm also having political issues with Knife, in which Lyra decides to submit her spirit and mystical ability to commune with Dust through the Compass to the boy's judgement. I can't even remember the boy's name and I just read the book. Basically, because he's a murderous "warrior", all her courage and intelligence and ability is nothing, if not put in his service.

Also, the only choices of strong female characters in Knife are Mrs. Coulter (evil, crazy bitch), or the witches. the witches are kickass, but aren't quite human, live off in this entirely man-free society, and are sexually available to any man of sufficient accomplishment. in fact, they are so apt to fall dangerously in love, that they represent a fatal force of nature when rejected. their centuries of life and power are, of course, thrown to the winds in pursuit of some stupid man who will only live a fraction of their lives. this is in direct contravention to how Serafina Pekkala describe the witch life in Compass, in fact.

Also, Lee Scoresby, who didn't really do all that much in the first book, suddenly becomes (yet another)father figure to Lyra (after spending about a week with her in the first book) and gives up his life for the chance of protecting her. Retch. And where's Iorek Byrnison?

So basically we're dealing with a first book that offered extremely nuanced and complex understandings of the varieties of human nature, and a second book that gave itself way too much to do and so simpliflied everyone into a stupid stereotype.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

By all rights I shoulda hated this one, but it was really fun. Basically, a novelization of a superhero comic-book style story, but with complex characterization and much use made of the entirely verbal narrative. Way too precious and jokey and self-conscious, but it really works. 'Nuff said.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

I know him. Fun book. Go read!

December 22, 2007

Journeyman

All the "Journeyman" episodes are available to watch online now. Check 'em out. Maybe if there's enough interest, they'll renew the series.

December 21, 2007

Top Ten Novels

Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.

But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.

Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.

  1. The Dark is Rising: I wrote about it recently so I don't have to repeat, but this is a peculiar and beautiful little jewel of a book: not logical, nor perfectly structured--as YA and fantasy and YA fantasy must usually be--but intuitive and grand and cold and mysterious and ritually layered and smart and adult and complex all at once. I never found an age-specific book to match it because there is none, and it didn't so much confirm my childhood reading as point away from it, into the possibilities beyond.
  2. Pride & Prejudice: is so popular right now it hardly needs more elegy (or more accurately, rhapsody) added to its account. But beyond the "romance", which I started finding suspect at a fairly young age, P&P remains a favorite because it is so damned perfectly structured. I've read it twenty times (no exaggeration) and the structure never fails to usher me through the same emotional experience. You can become so accustomed to something that you sicken of it; you can build a tolerance to drugs; but a perfect narrative arc somehow never fails to raise your blood pressure at the right moment, even when you know what's coming better than you know the feeling of your own birthday.
  3. Jane Eyre: people pass over the weirdness of JE, I think because it's weird and that makes people uncomfortable. But weird is what happens when you take the sketchiness of a fairy tale and inhabit it with complex characters. I don't mean what Gregory Maguire does. Wicked and ilk is just a more complex formula. I mean, when you play out fairy dust in the real world, to its logical conclusion. When wives go mad and husbands are half-wild and damagingly entitled, and a half-benevolent, half-malicious universe intervenes to allow women of spirit to both escape, and be enslaved, in equal measure. JE is an anomaly among Victorian novels not because every single aspect of it wasn't a rampant trend of its era, but because Bronte committed absolutely to every device, and every line, took all of it absolutely seriously, rather than allowing herself genre and ironic distance like all the mens did. The result is Emily Dickenson weird, like focusing on flies' buzzing, or how to paint a billow, or the expression on a dog's face at twilight, when the universe shrugs to startle the master's horse.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: hardly needs commentary either. Again, this was an issue of structure for me, a lesson in how Pride & Prejudice five-act fiction wasn't the only way to go about it. My first spiral structure, and induction into the pleasures of varying velocity. I didn't see it until the end, but the final sentence of Solitude tells you all you need to know about the book ... but only if you've already read the book. So it was also my first experience with that successful paradox of show vs. tell. And the book, also paradoxically, while falling me in love with lush lyricism (just like everyone else), was actually what put me on the road towards a more stripped down prose ... because once Garcia-Marquez has rained petals from the sky to mourn the death of a patriarch, what more can I or anyone do? Plus, an experience of pure, extended beauty. Truly. I was in a daze for a week. One of my few moments with the ecstasy of writing, felt while reading.
  5. The Dispossessed: Rather a dry experience, compared with all of the preceding, but a book that set me intellectually on fire because it was the first political novel I ever read. I mean, sure, I had to read Upton Sinclair and Orwell and Steinbeck and Uncle Tom in high school, but when the politics of the book is over--and come to think of it, all of those were books about political situations that had been largely resolved, although they left a mean residue--so is the book's impact. The Dispossessed was something of a complicated utopian novel, the first one I ever read after all the dystopias I read in high school (1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I'd never experienced a political world that I so wanted to inhabit, nor felt the representation of a political reality better than the one I already inhabited. I'm no revolutionary, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the book created an activist of me. But what I have been able to do since then is at least partly enabled by the awakening of my political imagination ... something very different from political consciousness and much more essential to the workings of true democracy.
  6. The Joy Luck Club/The Woman Warrior: I'd be the first to scream if someone else glommed these two together, but I have to put them together because in my mind, they are the good and bad sides of the same coin, and the one didn't take effect on me until the other one had been thoroughly assimilated (used advisedly). I read Woman Warrior in high school, after picking it out of a used books bin in--where else?--SF Chinatown as a tween. It kinda fascinated me and kinda turned me off, partly because I was looking for some reading experience I could finally identify with, and, although I recognized the universal Chinese mother, Kingston--like any good writer--took care to make her mom an individual rather than a universal, and a Chinatown girlhood isn't the same as a hapa midwestern suburban girlhood. The other turnoff was her careful and fabulist deconstruction of novel, memoir, and superhero/hero's journey narrative. I was not at an age to appreciate that.

    Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.

  7. Howard's End: Modernism wouldn't have made much sense to anyone without Forster to bridge the gap and I'm no exception. And just as everyone takes what they want from Modernism and leaves the rest, I went forward in my reading only to eventually go a step or two backwards to Forster. He introduced me to the deconstruction of the third and fourth dimensions ... but gently. Howard's End, with its timeless mansions and perpetually updating railways, is the novel of space/time compression fighting it out with imperialist expansion. I didn't experience any of that my last two years of college, but I did feel the way Forster messed with the reader's experience of time, so that important moments pass in a sentence, and untangling their implications is the quotidian work of the rest of the novel. With a little hindsight I can see that Howard's End--all of Forster, really, since I gobbled his entire oeuvre in a year--slammed the door on the following classics: Jane Austen and her manners insulated from the source of their wealth (see Tisa Bryant on Mansfield Park), and Charlotte Bronte and her Indies-plantation-owning-African-mission-going romantic males. Forster's literary heir is really Orwell.
  8. Middlemarch: Speaking of steps backward, my big discovery during my grand tour of Europe after college was Eliot. I went and read more and more and more Victorian-era novels: all of the Brontes that I had missed, all of Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tostoi, maybe a little Georges Sand ... and of course, all all all of Eliot. And--not to diss the intellect of all of the preceding, especially Forster, but Eliot's oeuvre--Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and especially Middlemarch--were my first encounter with fiction written by an intellectual writer and critic with a broad understanding of her time and a clear and expressive (rather than emotional and expressionistic) prose style. It's hard to rhapsodize about effectively, but emotional intelligence, breadth of vision, passion for people, and the ability to inhabit every stage of perspective, is my definition of genius thanks to George Eliot. She influences me more than I ever know when I'm in the midst of writing, and if I had to choose only one writer to emulate, Eliot would be the one.
  9. Cosmicomics: Not a novel, of course, but close enough to make a difference. Beautiful, weird and whimsical, funny, and with a simultaneously light and heavy touch ... everything I have written since I started reading Cosmicomics has been an attempt--in its way--to reproduce the effect of that book. It's that (to me) horrifying construction, a book of linked short stories, that remakes the novel, and indeed the short story for me. Not because of any structural or space/time funkiness--once you get past the sci-fi-y surface, these stories are very traditional--but because the ideas are so lovely Calvino just sort of ... doubled them back on each other, for the fuck of it. My most purely loved book on this list.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius please don't try to tell me this isn't a novel. And no, I'm not interested anymore in that discussion about the memoir/novel or the novelistic memoir, or the true novel or the fictional autobiography. Suffice it to say the lines have been blurred, who cares by whom? It's all the--by now--GenX clich├ęs Eggers wielded with excellence (yes, excellence) that make this book for me. Maybe I'm slow but it blew my little mind in 1999 and made a permanent dent. Eggers remains the only writer of my generation who has successfully blown my mind. (Lethem has also blown my mind, but not with a single book. Not that that's less valuable than the single-book-mind-blow, but that doesn't play as well on top ten lists.) Eggers is a negative influence. All due respect, but I have to fight hard not to write like him. He set up some rhythms and phrasing tricks that are so. damn. easy. to imitate.
  11. Parable of the Sower: My introduction to Octavia Butler. I've written about her here and here and don't feel like getting into it again. She found me a way to write science fiction, something I had always wanted to write but couldn't find a way to do while incorporating all my Asian American issues. 'Nuff said.
  12. Mumbo Jumbo: And finally, the book that answered my lingering questions about how I want to--and can--write what it is I have to write. Or put another way: what do I actually have to write. Reed gave me the structure of a process for using the code-switchy language of my actual life and not the prettified standard language Asian Americans are supposed to learn to get a dialogue with the power butlers. Reed teaches that surface and depth can be completely connected, so your linguistic polyrhythms can show and tell about what mainstream American wants to dismiss as schizophrenia simultaneously. Complex and challenging, but not white noise; a wall of word noise textured with different weights of meaning. A language that cites its sources moment by moment. Aleluja!

December 18, 2007

Bummer

I read on Wikipedia that Journeyman is about to be cancelled. I hope it's not true. It's a good show, one of the best of this year. Too bad it had kind of a slow buildup.

Oh well, TV is unexciting right now, and it's not because of the strike.

December 15, 2007

No Campaign Comments!

I didn't think this needed to be said, but apparently it does:

Do not post comments on my blog that attack or promote political candidates!

No, I'm not a nonprofit. I can say what I want. I can endorse (or not) any candidate or legislative measure I want to.

But I won't encourage or abet any stupidity on my blog---and those woodenly-written, hysterical mini-rants about this or that candidate that are intended to look enough like blog posts to fool internet cretins (hint: they don't) are damned stupid.

Don't go there. Or you will be deleted, and probably also banned. And if you really piss me off, I might even sell out your email address in some vaguely unethical, but legal way. See comment rules here.

December 14, 2007

Halliburton Rape Petition

Hey all,

Moveon.org has a petition drive to get Congress to investigate the gang-rape of Jamie Lee Jones, a Halliburton employee working in Iraq, by her coworkers. Jones was held in a shipping container after the rape and refused medical treatment until US embassy workers came to rescue her. See the announcement below.

Jamie Leigh Jones was working in Iraq for a subsidiary of Halliburton when she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by several coworkers.

For the last two years, she's been asking the US government to hold the perpetrators accountable, but the men who raped her may never be brought to justice because Halliburton and other contractors in Iraq aren't subject to US or Iraqi laws.

I just signed a petition urging Congress to investigate the rape of Jamie Leigh Jones, hold those involved accountable, and bring US contractors under the jurisdiction of US law. Can you join me at the link below?

http://pol.moveon.org/contractors_accountable/?r_by=11800-5166246-_riSn_&rc=paste

December 12, 2007

Multi Facial

Somebody finally posted it:


This is why I love Vin Diesel.

December 11, 2007

Pritty X-mas Decorations

You're welcome.

December 05, 2007

Reading Update

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Too good to be dismissed, too bad to be praised.

This is a WWII in Germany book, about a girl whose father, a communist, is taken away by the Nazis. Her mother is sending her and her brother to live with a foster family when her brother dies of tuberculosis. She arrives at her foster family's house illiterate (at the age of eleven), just as the war begins.

Zusak has a way with language, but the book is waaay too much about Zusak's way with language--and his way is not infallible. This is why you put the story ahead of the language, folks: because if you're not as good as you think you are--and Zusak isn't--then people will have something to fall back on.

However, that tactic would have failed, too, because the story isn't that great. It's basically "How I spent My Summer Vacation" only with "Summer Vacation" replaced by "WWII".

There are no bad characters in the book, nor any characters with any real flaws. They have peccadilloes, is all. The family hides a Jew for a year or two, and not once, the whole time, do they resent him. Everybody directs their rage and fear where it belongs: at Hitler. Not once do they take it out on each other.

Zusak insists on "foreshadowing" everything (by telling you exactly what's going to happen) but he's not consistent about it. This neither creates tension, nor serves any other purpose. And it's annoying.

Worst of all, the protagonist has nothing to do: no choices to make, no real actions to take. There's a bit between her and the wife of the mayor, who allows her to steal books from her library. But that's all resolved by the mayor's wife's forgiveness. The protag doesn't actually have to DO anything to earn that forgiveness.

Come to think of it, perhaps that's why all the "foreshadowing". It's hand waving to distract from the lack of plot or tension.

The book moves you forward for about half of its length, but then after that, it's a bit of a slog. Not painful, but not pleasurable, either. Not recommended.

Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce

Fun, but less fun than the first one, Trickster's Choice. It's a little hard to get with a heroine who makes no mistakes, and never feels fear because she's never really in danger because she's perfect. But fun.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Read it for work. Enlightening.

Heroes, *sigh*

Dum dum DUM ...

Sylar's back.

*yawn*

We kinda dealt with him last season, though, right? What's there left to do now? I mean, once you've explored near-omnipotent good guys and bad guys, where do you go from there? Just keep bringing them back?

I was liking where the whole thing was going with Parkman's dad, but they decided that anatomy is destiny, and the stocky guys are always gonna be the slobs of the heroes world.

Are Nikki and hubby gonna stay dead? They died so stupidly. And how intensely lame are Monica and Elle? They aren't the slightest bit badass. Are they gonna turn Elle into a good guy? How boring.

*Sigh*

I'm bored with Heroes. I'm actually glad the writers are on strike.

December 03, 2007

I Knew This Stuff

... but I'm still horrified at this.

Be sure to go and read the whole series.

Via Pandagon.

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