I'm slowly reading Laleh Khadivi's The Age of Orphans not only because I'm a turtle but because I like to study an author's language. If you haven't picked up The Age of Orphans then I encourage you to do so NOW.

Reading her novel reminds me that language is not a collection of crude words. Language does not only serve a particular character's voice, a novel's plot. Language in its varied forms is an extension of music. There is only ONE common way to read music--through notes. Music is our shared human language. Before there were words--there existed sounds, grunts, shrieks. From these sounds came beats and rhythm, perhaps inspired by the earth.

In Laleh's novel I'm reminded that as human beings, we belong to one earth. The language of our earth is music, often sharp; as human beings we live in varied registers, keys, and pitches; we share with one another at different frequencies.

Needless to say, she inspires me. I've been working on my WIP slowly. Painstakingly, I attempt to write in the rhythm of this human existence for any less would be useless.
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scififanatic: (Color blocks)
( Feb. 16th, 2009 09:33 pm)
This Valentine's Day, I had an awesome friend, [livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee, to hang with and I've never had so much fun. Seriously, the last time I had that much fun, I was at the Exploratorium in San Francisco with my friends Lori and Judy.

[livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee took me to The Huntington in San Marino for birthday/Valentine's Day celebrations. I'm so lucky to know people who are as kind and good as her. She's so smart. I learn so much just by listening to her talk enthusiastically about writing, comics and manga, the movie and entertainment industry, etc. That's what I love about my friends: each person is so unique! I'm lucky to know them.

Well, I'd never heard of The Huntington until [livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee told me about it; I've lived in SoCal nearly all my life but I'd never been to this historic landmark. With over 120 acres of gardens, museum/mansion, an art gallery and various exhibitions, we spent the entire day learning, walking, exploring, talking, and laughing.

Here are some photos from the trip (I could only upload 40 or so to flickr):


We left The Huntington at 4:30 p.m. and headed straight for Zankou Chicken. Ohhhh, the food was so good! I've got hummus left over, which I spread on my lunch sandwich today. I can't wait to go back. After stuffing our faces with yummy food, we stopped by the comics store next door.

I browsed around and took a look at a manga selection [livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee recommended. After reading the first dozen or so pages, I was hooked so I had to buy it: Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson by Akira Hiramoto.

Then we headed to Vroman's Bookstore because there was a "singles mixer" and I wanted to use a gift card that someone had given me nearly a year ago. Vroman's is an awesome place and if it were closer to the South Bay, I'd shop there more often. They had a great selection of new books! I saw my fiction teacher's book on display, The Vagrants. (As I type this, I realize that I should have taken a picture of it for her. Darn!) The poetry section was okay. I couldn't find the Gregory Orr collection that I want so I'll have to use my B&N gift card to get it.

Once I picked my selections and [livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee got some coffee, we realized that there weren't many singles mixing around. We asked one of the employees about it and found out that we were at the wrong location. LOL!!! She gave us directions to where the party was at but [livejournal.com profile] stinglikeabee and I both looked at each other with that same look, "Ain't gonna happen." Oh well, as she says, "it was their loss" that we didn't show up. :)

What an awesome holiday weekend! I can't wait to go again!
I've said this before, that I read to get inspired. More than that, I like to read writers who know how to hold a note. When I listen to a ballad, I don't want to hear a singer go flat. Similarly, when I read a story, I want to know how skillful a writer can be with words. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is a poet's novel. There are some writers who have funny catchphrases, who can have a good line here and there throughout a story. Rarely do I find myself completely hooked to every single word.

Atwood writes like a virtuoso. She makes you taste her words, roll them around your tongue, savor them. She exposes you to many flavors: wry, touching, haunting, visionary. I read for the high notes and Atwood's pitch is so bold, so clear. Rarely do I read someone else's writing and say, "I wish I could write like that," but Atwood has me awestruck.

When I finished The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, I felt nothing but admiration for this body of work. If the saying is true, that we fail more often by timidity than by over-daring, then Atwood's dystopian novel is a great success. She is quite bold and I LOVE this.

Some people have complained that Atwood's novel structure was too confusing. She jumps back and forth through different points in time. If people read through to the end, then it all makes clear sense. Some people have also said that the male characters are thinly sliced. To this I say, "well duh!" I know, I know--some people will never get it.

In all honesty, this book read more like an alternate history (subgenre of speculative fiction) for me. Since it was first published in 1985, I can see how publishers and some readers would label it dystopian (also subgenre of speculative fiction). Unfortunately, I think calling it dystopian has raised issues with some readers (particularly in this New York Times Review). Readers expect a glimpse of the not-so-distant future from dystopian novels, no matter how stark that image may be in novels such as 1984 by George Orwell or even Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

In Atwood's novel, the setting is the United States. God is government. Offred, the novel's central character, has been rehabilitated by "Aunts" (there are several classes of women in the novel; they are all oppressed by color coded, restrictive clothing--and they are oppressed in many other ways which I won't detail now). I didn't realize until I'd read nearly 3/4 of the novel what their names meant. I felt a little silly once I made the discovery. "Of course!" I thought. Offred, meaning "Of Fred", who is the commander in which she serves, defines her class as a "Handmaid" (another class). Handmaids are brainwashed with the Bible to become incubators for sterile wives and Commanders who can no longer conceive. In fact, this is a larger issue in the novel. Atwood hints in several places of her novel that infertility was a problem due to toxic wastes and other spoils of man-made ills.

This is where I think I break away from calling this a dystopian novel. In Children of Men by P.D. James, we have a future that is fully realized. There are clear warnings. Atwood touches on similar topics but ultimately, her story is about human interaction, relationships between women and men, women and women. Dare I say that this novel is about LOVE?

Oh there's just so much I want to say that I think I'll have to write an essay. Seriously! These are the times when I think going back for my PhD is a good idea. *Sigh* If I ever won the lottery, I could afford such an endeavor.

Do I recommend this reading? Two words: HELL. YES.
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Is 10% ever enough?

If you're starving and someone gives you 10% of a sandwich, are you satisfied? Maybe you're so hungry that you're just grateful for a bite. Maybe you're so hungry that you're anxious for more.

I use this example because after reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, I'm haunted in my everyday life by this question that the characters in the novel face: is 10% ever enough?

Jenna Fox struggles with her identity. All her life, since she was a little girl, she's been adored and has had very little room to pursue her individuality. Instead, she's placed on a pedestal and is pressured to say and do the things other people expect from her. We see this in the relationships with family and friends.

Unfortunately, Jenna comes crashing down trying to please everyone and this leads to Jenna's reinvention and her redemption in the end. I won't go into details for those who haven't read the book yet. I will say, however, that the last line in the novel completely took my breath away. There's a heaviness yet also a release in that last line.

When I'm still thinking about a book, talking about it to random people who haven't read it, I know that I've been inspired. That's what I think good books should do: spark controversy, get people talking, or get people inspired about some element in the story--a character, a theme, a setting--something! The Adoration of Jenna Fox will move you in this way!

This was my first time reading a book written by Pearson and I definitely plan on reading her other works. Both her primary characters and her secondary characters are fully realized. Her writing is poetic and gripping. I can't say enough good things about this novel.

Currently, I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which is blowing my mind too. (Yes, I know. Everyone has read this one already but I'm a late bloomer.)
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Once again, I'm probably the last person on earth to read this great novel. Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles is a novel about abuse, friendship, remorse, and forgiveness. It is also about finding your voice to speak out. This last theme affected me the most.

True friendship--what's the meaning? Is it someone who will keep your secrets? When should someone keep a secret and when should someone tell one?

"Everyone has secrets. They aren't ours to tell," (p 65) says Leah to Laine. Both girls are unable to speak up about the abuse they've suffered. Leah, who has been abused by a family friend, has in turn abused Laine, a plain girl who is timid and shy. Knowles exceptionally creates a character, Leah, that readers both hate and pity. As for Laine, we know that she doesn't know how to navigate such a complicated and abusive relationship because she's never had real friends before.

It isn't until the end of the novel that Laine learns how to physically and symbolically bury her past as she buries an unwanted doll and eventually Leah's body that died in a crash. Though she never receives an answer from Leah about why she was singled out for such abuse, Laine has real friends in the end and through their support and her courage, she can finally speak up for the timid girl she used to be.

I highly recommend this book. One finds power in this novel, strength in the voice Laine finds in the end.
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I've been reading like a mad woman and will continue to do so as every good writer should. If I blog in the next few months, it will be to write book reviews and give these wonderful writers my props!  (This also helps me as I brew over my current artistic work.) 

First up--Tonya Cherie Hegamin!

M+O 4EVR is Tonya Cherie Hegamin's debut novel. The story is about love in a universal sense: family, friendship, first love, ill-fated love...

The novel opens with two African American teens, Marianne and Opal (M is biracial, O is not) and the two are taking a drive around town after Marianne has been crowned the town's first black homecoming queen. Marianne has dreams of the glamorous life, of running far away, of making it in Hollywood. Opal has dreams too that come crashing down...

Hegamin's ability to paint these characters is so strong that they pulsate off the page and the reader is mesmerized and enchanted. It almost feels wrong to know these characters as intimately as we do, which makes the blow that appears later in the novel so devastating.

One girl wants so badly to be loved by everyone. The other wants so badly to love just one.

Both teens have been raised practically together by O's family since childhood. The grandmother is real. The father is loving. The mother appears as ethereal, in a lovely scene at sea, as the stories she once told M and O before they went to bed. This sets up the story-within-a-story of Hannah, a slave who escaped her owners and found herself in the arms of real love.

Ultimately, Hegamin's message is clear: "It doesn't matter who you love, just so you love them right." That love may last a lifetime or a mere mass of stolen moments. One thing is sure--love endures.  We make sacrifices for that love.  We see this in M+O's story and in Hannah's story as well.

This is a beautifully written novel for teen and adult readers to enjoy and discuss. It also raises issues of racism, sexism, and class without feeling forced. Highly unforgettable and recommended!

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I recently finished reading, for the first time, Sold by Patricia McCormick. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] edithspage for letting me borrow this book. I held it hostage for half a year!

Truthfully, I started this story and stopped. Started and stopped. I kept having nightmares in my sleep of Lakshmi. These dreams were so harrowing that I would have to step away and pick up another book with new words to scrub out the ones from Sold that conjured the images in my mind. (I know this may sound weird to some people but I'm aware that I operate like a sponge at times, making it very difficult for me not to feel. I'm just too spiritually sensitive to such things.)

In other words, Patricia McCormick writes with a brave and an unflinching eye. The story is told from the POV of Lakshmi. A novel of this proportion is difficult to summarize because this story is about everything: all that we hold dear and all that we fear, the hopes we have for our children and the dangers that exist for many other children in the world, the strife of women and the bias of men...I could go on and on but instead will focus on, what for me, is the novel's triumph: the power in believing.

Lakshmi believes that she is old enough to help earn money for her family; when they lose their crops to a monsoon and her stepfather demands that she be sold, Lakshmi is brave and looks forward to the opportunity to help. She believes that this will help the family put a tin roof over their home, clothes on her baby brother, and food in their stomachs.

Once she is sold, she believes Bajai Sita and Auntie are going to set her up for housework. When that doesn't happen, she is taken under the care of Uncle Husband, whom she believes will protect her but instead, he sells her into the hands of Mumtaz--the sadistic owner of a brothel called "Happiness House." This girl, for all that she is forced under in her sexual slavery, is strong. Initially, she believes her hunger can outlive Mumtaz's threat to starve her if she doesn't work. Actually, Lakshmi's belief is correct because it was Mumtaz who grew tired of waiting for Lakshmi to give in so Mumtaz begins drugging her.

The details from then on are harrowing and like I said, I had to put the novel away several times to give my mind a break from the pain Lakshmi endured. It was all so vivid and made all too real after reading McCormick's author note.

After a while, Lakshmi believes that she can pay off her debts. When she finds out that Mumtaz has no intention of letting her go, Lakshmi holds on to the belief that an American worker will rescue her. Make no mistake about it, though Lakshmi is rescued, it is Lakshmi who had the power to cause this rescue. She never gave up and before the teaboy left, she made sure to ask him to find the Americans and to tell them to come for her. The reader has to believe then that Lakshmi is rescued not by some chance but because she never stopped believing that there could be an end to her suffering.

The ending is so breathtaking, so exhilarating that if this were another book with another child in a safe place, I would believe that I'd just read a moment where a young girl has learned to ride her bike for the first time, pedaling fast and free and far away from a ghostly world. At the beginning of the novel, there is a drought. Sure enough, by the end, the reader is made to feel as if a wonderfully cleansing rain has just poured into Lakshmi's life.

I can't say enough about this book and yet there is so much more that my heart knows needs to be said, like the way the characters survive through the power of language, how education should not be a privilege but a right to every person in this world, the crisis of health care and fighting to educate communities about HIV, the power of friendship and memory...there's just so much in this novel. Goodness! I HEART McCormick for writing this book and you will too if you haven't read it already.
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scififanatic: (Books)
( Jul. 20th, 2008 02:39 pm)
"There is nowhere but here."(page 89)

It was a late Saturday afternoon after having lunch with [livejournal.com profile] marivee that I first spotted The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau while browsing in Borders Bookstore. I'm probably the last person on planet earth who hasn't read this novel. The book's cover with the light bulb caught my eye and when I picked it up, [livejournal.com profile] marivee recommended that I read it. My local used bookstore didn't have a copy so I borrowed it from the library where I work. (If anyone's curious, we had the novel cataloged in the YA section.)

I'm now wishing I'd bought the book because I had to take all my notes on a separate sheet of paper, rather than in the margins like I normally do. This story was engrossing!

DuPrau is excellent with switching POVs. The omniscient narrator hangs over the city in darkness, and the reader becomes intimately familiar with all that is happening in Ember. Imagine a world without the convenience of light and washing machines, sweet pleasures such as pineapples or colored pencils...

Until the end, you may wonder where the story is really taking place. Our sense of time and location is as faulty as the electricity in Ember. Character's names are odd, which also add to the mysticism of Ember. The various jobs children must do aid the story. I love that Lina is a Messenger because in our most fearful times, we need communication, we crave that sense of connection the most. This is made even more evident when Mrs. Murdo takes care of Lina and Poppy later in the novel.

Most of all, I'm impressed by her language. DuPrau's writing is concise; she doesn't overburden the reader with flowery language (a weakness I have yet to correct in my writing). In other words, her writing doesn't call attention to itself, rather it serves her story and her characters well. Her use of dialogue, particularly in the opening, is skillful.

Though some of the plot is driven by Lina's and Doon's naivety (telling the guard about the mayor's thievery was just dumb), these two 12-year-old characters remain likable, vulnerable, and clever. Also, Lina and Doon are the perfect compliment and contrast throughout the story that readers benefit from two POVs.

With all these successes, I still had 2 questions nagging me at the end of book #1. If the mayor had a handheld electric megaphone, why didn't anyone in the city have a handheld flashlight?! Also, because the reader is given so much information about how the citizens must reuse everything, I found myself wondering what happens to those who die. Where did they take Granny when she died? Shouldn't the doctor or someone have reused her organs some kind of way? At the least, I would have expected to see a ceremony since those in the City of Ember seem to be big on such traditions. I guess some readers would have found recycling body parts a bit morbid but why not go all the way with the setting? That's just me, I guess.

There are so many meaningful themes in this novel that I have to wonder if it all happened organically for DuPrau or if she had a sense of what she wanted the novel to be about before she revised. According to her web site, DuPrau says she shelved the first version of her manuscript and came back later to revise; the whole process took about 2 years. Still, that seems awfully quick to me and I'm sure that once she submitted her work after those 2 years, she still had some editing to do for her publisher.

Overall, I loved the story and I plan to read the next installments, book #2 and book #3 very soon.
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( Jul. 17th, 2008 07:43 pm)
I'm pretty good about keeping up with my teachers/mentors. I communicated with Victor LaValle (who has a great response to The New Yorker's racist cover) about a month ago and was excited to hear about his next book.

Micheline Aharonian Marcom had a new book (the third in her trilogy) released this March. I missed her reading in L.A. because of work but today, I stumbled upon the news that she will release another new title this year--yes, that makes two new books in the same year.

Mirror in the Well sounds sooooooooooo good. I can't wait to read this book and I'm hoping she'll come back to L.A. for another signing. By then, I'm sure I will have recovered from my last book talk trip.

After today, I have exactly 11 more days of work left. I don't start teaching until September so I plan to vacation for a full month. I deserve that much--I haven't had a vacation since last November and that was stressful because I used the time to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I'm looking forward to having a nice, long break. That will give me time to dissect all these great books I've been wanting to read. Now back to The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau!
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scififanatic: (thinking and writing)
( Jul. 17th, 2008 12:03 pm)
So I've been reading a lot of poetry over the last few weeks. I'm not going to write detailed reviews. Instead, I will list the titles and whether or not I recommend reading them as a whole. Here goes:

Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns, New Poems Both Light and Dark by Ray Bradbury. Sadly, no. Though I did enjoy a few poems in this book, the collection didn't inspire me. This was my first time reading Bradbury's poetry so perhaps I'm unfamiliar with his best poetic work.

Selected Poems by Margaret Atwood. Yes! I loved this collection. There were very few poems that I didn't like. Some of my favorites were "Tricks with Mirrors" and "Song of the Worms." I highly recommend this book of poetry! Atwood is the best at pratically everything, isn't she?!

Poems and Problems by Nabokov Vladimir. Maybe. This was my first time reading Russian poetry. This collection seemed to be all about desire. Some of my favorites were "The Muse" and "Soft Sound."

Shadow Train: Poems by John Ashbery. No. I just couldn't access the structure, the rhythm. It just felt very stiff but I'm sure that has more to do with me than with Ashbery's work.

The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Yes! My goodness do I love this woman! I've read her prose collection and was floored by, "In the Village." Like her prose, her poetry does not disappoint. Like most of her work, much of the topics concern Nova Scotia, nature, and wonder. Much of her childhood landscape is embedded in these verses. There is so much beauty in the precision of her language. Bishop is right up there among my favorites Jane Kenyon and Sylvia Plath.

For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. Maybe. I liked this collection but didn't love it.

And there you have it! Maybe an actual book review will come next week! I'm reading about 4 different stories right now but The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is rocking my world. I suspect I'll finish it first.
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scififanatic: (Books)
( May. 14th, 2008 11:35 am)
Maybe we don't see this debate in adult literature or even YA but when it comes to children's books (PB, MG, etc.), it seems like there's a fine line between a gimmick and hook.

Some editors describe gimmicks as "an attention-getting element that does little more than get attention. It is a contrivance that seems to add value without actually adding value. It distracts the consumer from the question of whether she really wants the product in her hands."

I bring all of this up because since I've registered to attend Book Expo of America in Los Angeles, I've been getting all kinds of postcards from publishers begging me to visit their booths. A few days ago, I got a shiny red and white card for a book about a dog who smells a color.

I didn't think much of it until I came to the line that says, "What makes [this] book series so unique is its Press-2-Sniff technology that enables readers to actually smell what [the dog] smells. Cleverly embedded within the pages of the book, it's innovative scent-dispensing packets are good for 50,000 sniffs and contain safe, non-toxic scents that truly mimic real life smells like a fresh-picked rose or juicy strawberries."

This may be a fun book to buy for your children at home but the library where I work gets a headache when books like this are released.

It isn't just a matter of finding the money in our budget to buy the book. We'd have to think long term and find out the cost of purchasing extra scent packets. Technical Services would have the task of figuring out how to bind and package such a product to display on our shelves. Circulation Services would want to know if the packets sustain heavy weight and damage in the book drop bins. Parents would want to know is this really safe? The library's Focus Group and Public Relations committee would want to weigh in on the positives and negatives of adding such a book to the library's collection. The Library Board would probably revise the library's Collection Development Policy to include books that "dispense scents" and the list goes on...

Suffice it to say, I don't know whether or not a book like this is a gimmick or a hook but this much I can say--my library steers clear from books like this. We're just getting on board with felt/board books for the 0-2 age group! Sad to say but it's true.

Too bad...maybe next year our library will be on board with the Press-2-Sniff technology. In the meantime, if you've got a kid who loves scratch-n-sniff stickers, this book may provide reading and smelling enjoyment.
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scififanatic: (Stars)
( Mar. 22nd, 2008 02:42 pm)
It started with a necktie. It ended with a necktie. But not just any kind of necktie and not just any kind of girl would give someone a gift with pictures of porcupines.Read more )
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scififanatic: (Princess shoe)
( Mar. 19th, 2008 08:58 am)
I've always been a slow reader, especially when it comes to a book I love but for some reason, I was able to finish Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl in one night. I started around 7 p.m. Sunday night and finished before 11 p.m.

Officially, I HEART Sara Zarr. I knew Deanna and I were going to get along from the very beginning when she confides that she harbors feelings for her closest friend's boyfriend. That honesty was such a breath of fresh air; even though it's wrong (and Deanna knows it's wrong because she selfishly admits that she knew him first--that's obviously no excuse) you still don't hate her because she's honest and conflicted and wounded.

If you're interested in reading good YA, I recommend this book. Deanna makes some terrible choices along the way (one will really boil your blood) but in the end, she's come to a place where she can shed the past and hope, just simply hope. The ending will leave you hoping that Deanna, her family, and her friendships are on the right track to healing and forgiveness.
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