Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cover Me: This is Going to be Random

A great cover song can make a huge difference in how you view a song.  Nirvana's cover of "The Man Who Sold the World," will always make me re-envision the David Bowie original.  Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" added so much more heft, considering that it was one of his last songs that came out before he passed away.  "Smooth Criminal," originally my Michael Jackson, got new life in the Alien Ant Farm version.  And does anyone even remember Prince wrote "Nothing Compares to You," the song that Sinead O'Connor so famously nailed with her huge jump in octave every chorus?
So when you discover that someone has made a delightful techno-ish, video game-inspired album of covers of the Beatles, I was pretty delighted.  "Tomorrow Never Knows" has some great vocal work on it.  The marching aspect at the beginning of minusbaby's "Flying [El Barrio remix]" is great fun.  Psilodump's "All You Need is Love" has this genius beat behind it too.  The Depreciation Guild's "Because" sounds surprisingly similar to the original, but it could be easily argued that you can't improve on something like that.  The only thing I'm not so sure about is how "Paperback Writer" is slightly uptempo.  It sounds a little too hurried.  Even so, something tells me that robots all over, from Robbie to to Wall-E to R2D2, approve. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Reading Program

Like all book junkies, I love a good library. And, like so many things, you never forget your first.
The local library that I grew up in has a lot of memories for me. I went to storytime here as a kid. I ran around the garden. I saw my first butterflies up close when a woman came in to do a show about them. I surfed the Internet back in the day when people were still using that phrase.
When I got a little older, I started volunteering at the library. As a kid, they had a Summer Reading Program, and I participated. It only seemed fair, at around twelve or fourteen, to start helping out, since I had enjoyed it back then. Over the years, I've gone back on occasion to put some more time in, since this library has sentimental value and because it's a good way to get a sense of what's happening in YA literature.
I signed up for a few times to volunteer this summer. I'm reluctant to take too many times, as of right now, since a lot of teenagers use the volunteer time to get into things like NHS. But I signed up for a few times throughout the coming weeks.
Year to year, not much changes at the Summer Reading Program. The idea of the program is to reward and encourage reading by elementary school kids throughout the summer. Volunteers man a table and record each student's reading. Every time they come in, they get at least one prize. Usually prizes are something small, like a yo-yo or a toy unicorn or temporary tattoos. For an adult, this would just be junk, but for a small child, this is a big deal. These kids then want to work for more prizes and keep reading. At the end of the program, we tally up the information. Kids who read the most get an extra prize. And we record what schools have the most kids participate and which schools read the most.
I do a couple of things. I man the desk and talk to kids about their books (we're suppose to ask them if they liked what they read.) Sometimes I work on Wednesdays, when there's a special guest, and the library is packed, and extra volunteers are needed to deal with everything. And then, this last summer, they asked me to find a way to combine all the data we got.
Easy, I thought. And it was. I just made a spreadsheet. After all the time I've spent at the Offbeat and the Red Cedar Review and the Center for Poetry, spreadsheets are a perfect way to organize data. So I've done that now for them too.
We talked last year about making a zine for the teens, but none of the teens were interested in writing or anything like that. Maybe we'll try again this year. Or we'll find something else fun to do. I've been wondering if they would like to make book trailers, which have become popular, or even start a blog.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Poetry of the Rich and Powerful

Recently, Slate published an article about how President Lincoln wrote decent poetry. The article features an interesting poem, one that is keeping with the kind of poetry produced in Lincoln's time. One of the things that article didn't mention was that other leaders have been known to write poetry, including Queen Elizabeth I, who wrote poems in rhyming couplets, and Chairman Mao, who wrote nature poems in the style of Walt Whitman.
Given that leadership and decent poetry apparently went hand in hand, I wondered: what would the poetry of other leaders look like?
For example, if Attila the Hun wrote a haiku, I'd expect it to go like this:
Aetius, you can
regard this your final war
-ning: Rome will be mine.
Not that Attila would ever write a haiku, considering that Attila was a Hun and that proto-haiku began developing some 1,200 years later. But it's still fun to imagine, especially when we imagine cruel leaders capable of writing heartfelt poems.
What if a nameless Viking were to write a tanka?
Shepard! Where is the
monastery of Lindis-
farne? My brothers and
I took the wrong way at the
fork on the river Garonne.
I think this has the potential to be a very fun, and silly, creative writing exercise. I'm putting together a guide for some people at the Center for Poetry on creative writing activities, and even though I wasn't planning on it, I think I'm going to put this in there.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Discotastic 1984

In theme with yesterday's post about a modernist mix tape, I'm posting this great music video of David Bowie's "1984."  I love the strings being used in the background.  It seems like a lot of amazing pop songs use strings well, like the Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby" and Green Day's "Hitchin' a Ride."  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Modernist Mix Tape

One of the things I'm noticing on literary blogs and whatnot are mix tapes. I love mix tapes, and sometimes I'm sad that I was born in the late eighties, as tapes were about to go out of style in favor of CD's. (Not that those aren't a barrel of monkeys in a different way...) I always wished that I would get more mix tapes (or mix CD's) as gifts, because they're tons of fun, and you get good free music.
Yesterday, I came across this mix, which is of music inspired by modernist literature. It's a great set, and could totally stand on its own, without its book pedigree backing it up.
Few mixes can handle having Iron Maiden, unless they are a hard rock/metal mix. "Brave New World" blends in surprisingly well with the rest of the songs.
Also, I am totally enamored of Rufus Wainwright's "Grey Gardens" on this mix. There's something so clean and clear about him singing "Tadzio, Tadzio" and then the rest of his singing is slightly scratchy. Beautiful!
And Bloc Party's "Ion Square" is a wonderful tribute to e.e.cumming's poem "I carry your heart." I love the line about being in Bishopsgate looking for Blake's grave. When I wandered over to Bishopsgate, I was trying to get into St. Helens Bishopgate, because it is apparently the church Shakespeare attended, so I guess I'm just as much of a literary nerd as the narrator of "Ion Sqaure."
There are a lot of other moments on this that are perfect. The harmony on The Zombie's "A Rose for Emily" is lovely and subtle. I love Kate Bush's singing on "The Sensual World."
I'm surprised at the lack of a Bob Dylan song. I feel if anyone has written a modernist-literature-inspired song, it's probably him. Not that I can think of any off the top of my head. I hear that P!nk often tells journalists what she's reading. I wish she'd write music based off of what she reads, just because I think it would be surprising, since no one associates pop music with literature, rightly or wrongly.

Some people in the comments made some great suggestions of other songs. One of them included Kate Bush's "The Infinite Kiss" which is based on Henry James's amazing "Turn of the Screw." I really love the short story/novella. It's got all sorts of good stuff going for it, and is a great work to write about. The song is honestly not what I think of when I think of this story, but the story probably shouldn't have a soundtrack, since silence would be a much better way of capturing the story's sense of isolation and devastating, ambiguous ending.

Also, someone suggested Toni Michell's version of "The Second Coming", "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."
The only fly-in-the-ointment with this is that I've actually read very few of the books listed in this mix. It might be the 19th century literature fan in me, but the only ones I've spent time with is Brave New World, which I read at fifteen and loved immediately, and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which I experienced at sixteen and also loved immediately. I had unending sympathy for the Savage and Mr. Prufrock, who are both romantically challenged.
Seriously, could people come up with more of these? They delight me to no end. My favorite one at this point is Frank Portman's mix to his own book, Andromeda Klein. His other book King Dork is one of the most accurate depictions of high school and rock-obsessed teenage boys I've ever read, and it's hilarious to boot.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Love of Three Oranges

Listening to Prokofiev today. The first time I heard him, I was about fourteen. I heard bits and pieces of his version of Romeo and Juliet, but the one that took my breath away was this piece, "Dance of the Knights."

It's a very melodramatic piece, which is what I like about it. I can see more than just knights dancing to this.

I'm not actually that familiar with Prokofiev, but today I went in search of his other stuff. I love interesting titles, so I tried this "Love for Three Oranges" because it sounded sort of wild. I'm not sure if I like this piece. It's not bad, but it would be hard to beat "Dance of the Knights."

Monday, June 21, 2010


One of the great things I got to do this weekend was see Metropolis down at the Detroit Film Theatre, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks back.
I've actually seen a shorter version of this film, but like most people, this was the first time I got to see this new complete version, which is almost identical to the original film. It was amazing and breathtaking and extraordinary. Even as the music was coming up, I could hear my heart start to pound. Most of the images were beautifully restored, so most of the movie is absolutely gorgeous, which the black and white and grays all stark looking. It's so clear in places you can see the white face paint of Freder's face. Some of the prints are still battered, and there are sections of the movie where there are lines running through the images, but most of the movie looks great, like it was filmed recently, not in Germany pre-Nazis. The set and music to this movie are amazing. I love this movie, especially the ending.
So, some of the changes from the version I saw several years ago involved a few subplots. One was of how 11811 switched places with Freder, the main character, so that he could throw the Thin Man off. There was also an action scene where the Thin Man beat up on poor, long suffering Josephat. And we discovered that Rotwang and Joh loved and fought over the same woman, Hel. Rotwang had this really creepy statue of Hel in his nefarious house and laboratory, making me think of the shrine to Arnold that Helga has in Hey Arnold! They also establish more religious themes in the movie. When I first saw this movie, the burning of the witch, Evil Robot Maria, took place in front of this building that I had never seen. At the end, I thought it looked like a church, but I couldn't figure out why we were there. Turns out there was a church in the earlier part of the film, and Freder goes there to hear a sermon, that is sadly, one of the two scenes that is still lost. The church also had these cool human personifications of the seven deadly sins and Death. The Death costume was particularly cool, since he had these intricate finger bones on and played a bone piccolo. It's the most scary and absorbing Death I've ever seen. You want to look away, but you can't.
I also learned a lot about this film through an essay they had for you to read. Apparently, part of the reason they cut out Hel was because censors feared that audiences wouldn't understand this was a name and not Hell. (Though I thought it was cool and possibly important that it so closely resembled Hell. Like maybe the scientist and the capitalist were fighting over the right to own Hell, which is what Metropolis has become.)
I was thinking of writing about this film in terms of race and gender. Women have a small role in this film, and it might be interesting to break down what that role is, especially if I allow for differences in class. There was also a brief moment in the film where Bad Robot Maria, imitating the Whore of Babylon, was being carried around by Black men, and I thought it would be interesting to see what the film was saying about that, especially if I mull it over and pull it apart like I do with so many of my interpretations.
Totally go see this. It will change everything you know about film and storytelling. The story will stay with you, especially how creepy the Thin Man is, how silly Rotwang and Evil Robot Maria are, and how sweet Good Maria and Freder are.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Art in the Park

In Detroit and its metropolitan area, summer always means art fairs. The one I'm particularly looking at going to: Art in the Park. It's in a few weeks, July 9th, 10th and 11th.
There looks like there's going to be some great things. I want to check out Herbal Scent Creations because I'm always looking for some new exotic soaps. It also looks like Karen Hoelscher has some interesting things. I'm dying for that printed scarf she has on her website.
I was also tickled pink to discover at least one of the vendors, Just Ware It, which sells jewelry that reminds me vaguely of Cuban jewelry, is also on blogspot.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Great Way to Fly

Another day, another Geraldine Heng article.  This time it's "'A Great Way to Fly': Women, Nationalism, and the Varieties of Feminism in Southeast Asia.".
The article chronicles the ways in which nationalist movements and feminism interacted with one another in several Southeast Asian countries.  The short and short of it is this: feminism was initially used by progressive groups, who later abandoned it once they were able to achieve power.  It then discusses examples of the airline industry exploiting the images of Asian women being as stereotypically willing to serve and please men. 
In Singapore, for example, legislators passed the Woman's Charter, which defined women in their relationship to their husbands and children, which is not the way women should be defined, since not all women want to marry or even want to marry men or want children.  It wasn't a complete fail, since it did enfranchise them in some ways, but after the charter was passed, people no longer believed that women still had issues; they believed the problem had been "fixed."  (This is also a problem around people in the U.S.) 
There was also a brief mention of how feminism interacts with things like race and class.  In 1983, the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew believed that educated women would mean that women would refuse to have children, and that in not doing so, there would not be enough children to maintain class and racial elites.  This is a great example of how anti-feminist rhetoric is part of a larger status quo-maintaining power system that also oppresses through race and class.  Yew wants to oppress women so that it's easier to oppress those who are not of high class and undesirable race.  Oppression works on a wide variety of factors, and that disrupting one works to disrupt the others. 
The article mentions a lot of women leaders who I am unfamiliar with.  Being the research junkie that I am, I tried to look some of them up.  Many of these women don't have Wikipedia articles (even tiny ones).  Sometimes if you search for them you can find small bits and pieces on the web, but it's very frustrating. 
For example: Aishah Ghani was the first president of AWAS, a political party in Malaysia, and later on the president of UMNO's second women's wing, according to the article.  I was able to find that she has a memoir, which went onto that long list of books I want to read.  There are non-English Wikipedia pages and webpages on her that I was able to translate, which are helpful and illuminating, but I wish this kind of information was available in English, because it's certain Americans who need access to information like this on other countries, because we're so famously ignorant on events outside the United States.  Also, it strikes me as an oversight of Wikipedia.
It was even harder to find information on Sakinah Junid.  I couldn't find any Wikipedia articles on her, not even the non-English kind.  Junid was the president of the Parti Islam's women section.  I found a book that mentioned her and what may be her own blog.   
I was happy that someone has some info listed on Shamsiah Fakeh: she was the second president of AWAS, she was exiled from Malaysia, she has a memoir published in Chinese, she died in 2008.
I also love that Heng uses the word "fantasmatic," which is one of those great words that people don't use enough.  She also uses the words "exegetes," which is someone who interprets a text, and "techne," which is a Greek word meaning someone who produces art with a particular goal in mind.  Great words like that often make me want to write poetry. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Romance of England

I read Geraldine Heng's "The Romance of England: Richard Coer de Lyon, Saracens, Jews, and the Politics of Race and Nation". It's this really fascinating discussion of a romance about Richard I (or Richard the Lionheart, as he's commonly known) and the fictional cannibalism in that romance and how it relates to racist conceptions of Saracens and Jews in the middle ages. I was aware that Richard was king during some major anti-Semitic massacres and killings, and that Richard only sort of cared, but my classes on medieval history never discussed this romance.
Heng makes some really interesting arguments. I particularly like the one about how the English are represented as the chosen people within the story. A lot of this reminds me of the roman a clef-like representation that Frances E.W. Harper does in her epic poem "Moses," where the chosen people are African Americans and the evil Egyptians are white people.
I love the idea of taking a piece of medieval text and discussing it in its cultural and historical context. This is what I've done a lot of the last few years, but usually I'm working with something more recent. But I'd like to read more about these ideas, especially since Heng makes some really interesting conclusions that sound perfect for more work to be done on them. The piece implies that other romances should be read with race and nationalistic movements in mind to further illuminate that romance and the culture that produced and consumed it. Going back to the Song of Roland, an epic poem, not a romance, as I did for an earlier post on medieval literature, I remember reading the descriptions of the Moors and thinking about what a race fail it was, since the Moors are every stereotype of Africans and Muslims: crazy, savage, ignorant, and polytheistic.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lips Unsealed

There's a review up of Belinda Carlisle's Lips Unsealed, her memoir about her time in the music business.  What got my attention about this review is that it asserts that Carlisle was a feminist without using the term feminist. 
This always brings up an important issue in feminism: does one have to identify as a feminist to be one? 
There's lots of things about Carlisle in this review that makes me feel like she is: she has meaningful friendships with women, she creates art that makes her happy, and she isn't interested in worshiping men, even the rock star kind.  But the review makes a point of saying that she isn't one, which makes me wonder if she doesn't identify as one.
There are some good and bad reasons not to identify as a feminist.  The bad ones include certain misogynistic politicians who liken feminism to every negative thing they can think of involving women.  Buying into that logic and shying away from feminism just because of the misogynistic rhetoric that paints broad strokes against it only aids the enemy here, so that's no good.  Not liking feminism because some self-identified feminists are racist, homophobic, ableist, etc., is a good reason, since sadly, there are "feminists" out there like that.  Although I view feminism as another way to break power structures, a kin to fighting racism or being an LBGT ally, not everyone sees it that way, or uses it as a way to maintain things like white privilege (just, you know, a white privilege that includes white women.) 
And then, of course, there's the flip of the coin: people who consider themselves feminist but are anything but.  I could name some of them, but if you're reading this, you probably don't need help.  You already know them: people who claim feminism as a philosophy or political belief but then espouse things like not funding rape kits for hospitals or pushing the women in their personal lives around or carrying on about how women should work harder at being sexy for their husbands, etc.  It's annoying to say the least. 
I hope, since I'm coming to admire certain things about Carlisle (having sex only when she wants to!) that she does identify as a feminist, at least now, because the movement needs women like her, the kind that are independent and understand what the entire point of feminism is. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Feminist Aesthetic of Reading

A week ago, I read this article called "Pleasure, resistance and a feminist aesthetic of reading" by Geraldine Heng, which explored medieval literature and feminist interpretations of it.  I've spent a lot of time working in medieval history, so I was impressed by Heng's writing on that history, since she covered a lot of ground in very little space.  But I also liked the idea of looking at medieval writing from a feminist standpoint. 
In March, I read The Song of Roland, which is about Roland, a knight of Charlemagne, who defends a particular spot in the Pyrenees to the point where he and all his men die, but allow the rest of the troops to avoid being attacked by the Moors.  (The Moors, in the words of one of my professors, is another way of saying "You, them there Muslims.")  What bothered me about this story was, at the end, Charlemagne has to tell Roland's fiancee (who wasn't mentioned previously in the story) that Roland has died.  Then this fiancee goes off and dies, with the writer implying she had nothing left to live for.  Obviously, as a feminist, I don't like the idea of a woman being forced to marry, and I'm not a fan of the idea of women not having anything better going on in their life than a man, so this bothered me.  Because I was reading The Song of Roland for a history class and I didn't have to write a paper on it, I kept these thoughts to myself.  Even though Heng didn't discuss this work in her essay, I suspect she would probably have something to say about it. 
I'm also wondering how she would feel about literary interpretations of letters.  I turned in an essay six weeks ago on the letters between Pope Gregory VII and Countess Matilda of Tuscany.  Is it possible to see these in a feminist light, even though they are not the traditional idea of "literature"?  Matilda obviously defended Gregory, but Gregory helped her as well.  Since Heng advocates seeing women in medieval literature as both dependent on men but also with some degree of power themselves, I find myself wondering if I should see Matilda in the same light. 
I'm also wishing I could read the Vitas written about her by various monks, because those would come much closer to qualifying as literature.  Vitas, or Lives, were basically biographies.  They were usually written by men working within the church (as monks, abbots, bishops, canons, etc.) that tell a person's life story, emphasizing how saint-like they are.  If they were written before they were canonized, the goal is to persuade readers they should be, and if they were written after canonization, it's because they wanted to use the person in question as an example of living one's life justly.  There's been a lot of work by historians on these biographies in the last twenty to twenty five years, analyzing them using close reading, a technique that any English major worth their salt understands.  So I'm wondering if it's possible to do something similar while working in English and not history. 
I wasn't really looking to read these feminist essays in order to work on the issues between history and literature or feminist in medieval literature, but Heng's essay opened up a lot of really interesting thoughts for me. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I'm working on a short story right now. I originally wrote it in March, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago I was able to sit down and start the editing process.
On a whim, I asked my friend Robert to give me some feedback. Even though Robert is smart and a reader, he's not really an English dork like some of my other friends. But I wanted to see what a "normal" person would say about this story, so it was an advantage here.
Sometimes the criticism you get is really surprising. He told me that my story reminded him of Dorian Gray, which I've decided to take as a compliment. He mentioned that the language was antiquated, which totally surprised me. I'm not trying to write like that, but maybe all this time reading nineteenth century literature (I'm slowly working through Little Dorrit) is rubbing off on me.
The thing he said that I know I need to work on most is the characters. He said that he liked the hints about the characters that I gave within the story but that it's too hard to keep the characters straight. He has a point, and it's something that has I was trying to correct before I gave it to him in feedback. The story follows a young girl around who is struggling with various interpersonal relationships, and there are several relationships that have fallen apart/are about to fall apart, almost all in the exact same way and for the exact same reasons. So there has to be a far amount of characters, given the nature of the story. So now I'm trying to come up with a way to make it easier for the reader to follow along. I think I'm going to mention certain characters in passing earlier, and then maybe it won't feel so confusing to the reader.
Of course the feedback wasn't all bad. He said that he liked it and that the ending was well done and that the piece as a whole was dramatic and simple. So at least there's something good to work with.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DFT Summer Schedule

The Detroit Film Theatre has just sent me their list of movies this summer. As always, they make me sad that I'm probably not going to get to see everything I want to see.
This weekend and the next weekends afterward they're showing "The Complete Metropolis." I saw a version of the movie several years ago and loved it. It was a visually stunning work, plus it had a really fascinating storyline. Apparently, this is the most complete version of the film that they have found so far, meaning I really want to go and see the this one since it is closest to what the filmmaker intended. They also have a restored version of another sci-fi/horror favorite, the Spanish Dracula, which often gets toted as better than the American version shot at the same time.
They're also showing some opera stuff, including Aida. That show is near and dear to my heart, since I worked on a high school production of it.
They're even showing an action film, The Warlords, which stars Jet Li. (Yes, that Jet Li, right over there.) I'm a sucker for period films, and I've always wished I could see more films that weren't about American or European history.
There are some more "traditional" art house films showing, including The Father of my Children, about a filmmaker, which I hear is really good. Also from Europe, they're showing Breathless, which a film critic told me that I must see. And they have Nora's Will, a comedy involving an attempted suicide. (So I'm assuming it's a black comedy.) They're also showing a series of films done by the amazing Ousmane Sembene, including Black Girl and Moolaade. The first film is especially important because it marks the beginning of African cinema.
And, as always, no art theatre would be complete without some documentaries. They have one called Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. When I first heard that title, I thought it was going to be some hilarious Japanese monster flick done in the 50's a la Gamera, but it's actually a film on people who collect bugs.
This is the problem with me getting stuff like this in the mail: all I want to do now is to go see these things.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Francis of Assisi Poems

Sometimes when I'm looking at poetry I come across poems that are similar to my own. Today I found a poet named Jennifer Atkinson who has poems surrounding Saint Francis of Assisi: Canticle of the Rain, Canticle of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio, and possibly Canticle of the Abbey. I love how Canticle of Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio has a folk song quality to it. Poetry is supposed to have a musical quality to it, but I so rarely see that anymore that sometimes I think modern poets have forgotten it.
I've been working on poems inspired by saints. I've spent the last few years doing academic work on saints, so I guess it's only natural I would eventually find them as fodder for poems.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Good to Hear You

I’ve been indulging in a little bit of reading today. I really liked this “Good to Hear You.”
One of the things that I thought was really interesting about it was the speaker’s voice and the main character. The speaker is the child of the main character, and it’s odd to hear someone describing someone’s actions as “My Father did this” or “My Father did that.” This particular device really pays off at the end of the story.
I also like the idea of people staring through their corporate buildings at the main character, an artist, as he works on a painting and gets mistaken for a terrorist.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Today, I was in a doctor's office, and I happened to come across a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine where I found an article about the love of Mark Twain's life.
Considering the image of Twain as an old man with his dry wit (and, in the version I've constructed for myself, even drier gin), it's hard to imagine him ever in love, but then again, just the image of Twain as young man who had not yet written those beloved masterpieces is hard to fathom.
It's hard as a feminist to ever read these stories about those silent muses behind those great male writers. I always find myself wanting to know those stories, not about the cathartic love these men apparently had. I want to know is Lesbia was real, if she was Greek, what she thought about Catullus, if her favorite poem of his was my favorite poem of his. I want to hear Laura speak about being married so young, about being chased around by a poet. I want to see if Beatrice is as interesting as the vision based on her.
It's frustrating that women who were writers in their own right became muses to others (i.e. men.) Even when they were achieving so much, both creatively and politically, society tried to co-op them into a position they were more comfortable with: a silent figure of worship, an impossible standard of feminine perfection, a scale against which the creator measured himself. I always find that creator wanting.
Occasionally I come across relationships between creative men and women that does disappoint me so much. I really like that Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning encouraged each other's work. I like that they were both published, respected poets in their own right before finding each other. I like that Robert Browning became enamored of her voice, not her silence.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Essays on Horror

Today, I happen to catch a bit of Underworld on tv today. Although there are vampire movies I prefer (Interview with a Vampire, Queen of the Damned, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade, The Last Man on Earth, Black Sunday…), I actually like a lot in this movie. It gets a little boring at the end, but it’s mostly solid.
As I was watching it, it occurred to me that it might be easy to interpret the film in terms of race, class and gender. The werewolves are so clearly like slaves, and the vampires, with their pseudo-English pedigree are like former plantation owners.
I often find myself with these kinds of thoughts about horror movies. I have a list of academic papers I’d like to write about Jennifer’s Body, and I often find myself wanting to work on other films, like Splice, House on Haunted Hill, and Black Sabbath. If I ever end up working in academia maybe that can be the basis of my first book: Essays on Horror.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Scandinavian Novels

One of the best and worst things about the internet is how easy it is to get sidetracked into doing something you shouldn't. Today, I was looking through Scandinavian Aggression, a website that I found on McSweeney's. And through that blog I ended up shopping for historical novels online.
Here's what caught my eye so far:
Crusader Gold by David Gibbins. This book is about that infamous menorah that was stolen by the Romans. I took a Roman history course a few years back so I know this is totally real. Apparently in the book someone is trying to track where it went. It sounds vaguely like The Da Vinci Code, but I'm hoping it'll be better than that.
Gunnar's Daughter by Sigrid Undset. This is apparently about a young woman who is raped and then forced to raise a baby alone. As a feminist, I'm curious as to what this book is like. If it's ultimately a feminist novel, I'll be pleased as punch. If not, well, then I'll have plenty to argue against it.
Meadowland by Tom Holt. This books manages to combine both the Byzantine Empire and Vikings, so I'm intrigued. How many Eastern Romans were aware of the discovery of the Americas?
The Redbeast: A Novel by Jo Nesbo. Since I enjoyed the last mystery novel that had neo-Nazis in it (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), I figured I should give this a try. And, as always, I'm interested in reading the likes of Henrik Mankell. I saw one of the film versions of Sidetracked and was very impressed, so I want to see how good the book is.
So, now I have another set of things to read, on top of the huge library of stuff I've already decided I needed to read.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Women Read

One of the projects I'm attempting to work on involves feminist theory. I'm reading parts of The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theory, in order to educate myself about the issues. My hope is, after I finish this, I'll be able to move into reading selections of the theory itself, having the kind of background knowledge to make more sense of each individual work within a wider context. Even though I've taken classes on feminism and women in literature and read feminist blogs, I still feel like furthering my understanding of things is a worthy goal.
Working through the introduction, I stumbled upon an idea that I had never considered before, but it seems basic and obvious now. There was a short discussion about the effect of reading on women. One of the ideas surrounding reading is that it made women more likely to question the status quo. As someone who loves to read and thinks of herself as a questioner of the status quo, I obviously like this idea.
I was in that shaky area of brain space between wakefulness and sleep this morning, when I stumbled upon a refutation of that idea: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and Darcy and Elizabeth.
Some background: both of these books are part of a phenomenon within the Jane Austen fandom, where writers publish what are basically works of fanfiction, usually centering on the marital (bliss?) of Darcy and Elizabeth. I find these works interesting for several reasons, but I want to focus on one of the least discussed characters: Anne de Bourgh. Within these two works, Anne is shown reading books, and not just any books: Gothic romances, the kind of thing that feminists have long championed (like in the cult following around Jane Eyre). But in the novels, Anne is forced into a marriage by her mother, and her husband uses his marriage to her for his own financial gain. Anne dies in the second book after giving birth to a child, no one mourning in the least for her. She never escapes her abusive mother or negligent husband to live independently, as her own person.
This is problematic. At one glance, this could be interpreted as Berdoll, the author, criticizing Gothic romances for not really being as feminist as some say they are. I've often argued that point with Jane Eyre, complaining that for a so-called feminist novel, our heroine ends up with a guy who tricked, lied and manipulated her. But this could also be seen as a criticism of the idea that women who read are automatically going to be feminists.
There's a lot of proof, even in my personal life, of this. I have a few self-identified feminist friends who say things that are anything but feminist. ("Oh, well, that girl is exaggerating. She probably just wishes he was stalking her.") They have college educations, they read, and yet they're totally for the status quo. There are a ton of so-called feminists who love their white privilege and refuse to see that in furthering a "feminism" that is limited to white women, they are just furthering the same oppressive system. I've been frustrated on quite a few occasions by this.
So, does reading make a difference? It doesn't hurt. Women who read reap the normal benefits of reading: mental exercise, better sense of language, exposure to well-constructed arguments and varied points of view. Because of this, women are more likely to see the ways in which systems of oppression operate, and through that knowledge, work to bring them down.
I myself am proof that it makes a difference, since I began this project in an attempt to understand more about the world around me, and even though I wasn't even through the introduction of the book I'm reading, I've already found myself considering ideas inter-textually and constructing an argument about the validity of an argument. So sure, women read. Feminists question power and argue for greater inclusion.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Part of this interview has Evangeline Lilly from Lost discussing a book she is writing. What intrigues me about all of this is that it's a children's book.
I've always wondered what it would be like to write for children. About a year and a half ago I wrote what was originally suppose to be a poem about a monkey and his family that someone suggested should be a children's books. I still really love that idea. I'd still really love to do it.
But generally, if I was going to write for young people, I think I would want to write young adult stuff. I grew up in the time of Harry Potter, when there were a lot of other fantasy novels written for the YA set, and I loved a lot of them (Redwall, Eva Ibbotson, The Arthur Trilogy, Coraline, The Hobbit, Gareth Nix, even The Series of Unfortunate Events). Right now, fantasy is really unpopular in YA publishing, but one day it'll come back in style, and I'll be ready with something. And, in the meantime, I can enjoy a decent urban fantasy for adults.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

YouMacon 2010

I guess this is a sign that I really did enjoy myself at World Steam Expo, because I was looking into YouMacon 2010. To be honest, I'm not that into anime or manga, but I am interested in learning more about it. One of the most interesting things at World Steam Expo were the people. I'm really like talking to new people. It gives me an opportunity to see other perspectives that I might not see otherwise.
I'm really intrigued since Lemon Demon is playing on being there, and both my friends Matt and Dave have good things to say about them. I'd love to see them. It's not until Halloween weekend, so there's lots of time to decide whether or not to go.