Hate the Player, Not the Game

I think, as humans, our need to shy away from things we don't "like" is a result of both nature and nurture. We don't like the feel of a 500 degree broiler pan on our forearm, so we move away (and yell enough expletives to make a sailor blush). We don't like feeling embarrassed, so we stay away from thing we're bad at (like dancing or mini golf). Often, people feel the same way about the main characters in novels- if they don't like he or she, they're more inclined to have adverse feelings about the book as a whole.

Case and point- Solar by Ian McEwan. I have to preface this by saying that this novel definitely wasn't his best, but it definitely had things to appreciate. After reading many of the reviews on Amazon, I noticed that a common complaint was that the protagonist wasn't likable. Yup, he was a chauvinistic, lazy, abrasive opportunist, but he was also a fascinating character in a novel that uniquely combined environmentalism and fiction. Who cares if he wasn't warm and fuzzy?

Another character that I didn't love was Marina Singh in Ann Patchett's newest novel State of Wonder. I can't pinpoint where exactly my dislike stems, but something about her just didn't resonate. Patchett's crafting of her character wasn't to blame, though; she was interesting, intelligent and independent (the three Is all women should be). And while I had a few issues, I enjoyed the story and would strongly recommend it; I just didn't fall in love with Marina.

There are plenty of great novels with less than likable characters; A Confederacy of Dunces, Crime and Punishment, In Cold Blood, and Super Sad True Love Story, to name a few. What makes these novels great is the writing, both as far as plot and prose. And there's a difference between not liking a character because they're assholes/whiners/murderers and not liking them because they're flat, poorly developed or just plain "off." Talented writers can immerse unlikable characters in good books, while mediocre writers simply lack the skill to develop their characters or the rest of the their novels.

I think it's important to note that often authors make characters unlikable on purpose. Why do we hate them so much? How does it change our perspective on the rest of the novel? What does it make us realize about ourselves?

As much as I don't watch many movies, I suppose they're relevant examples. Take Star Wars. Love the movies, but hate Luke Skywalker for being such a whiny little bitch ("waaaa, my aunt and uncle are dead," "waaaaa my dad wants kill me," "waaaaa the girl I want to bone is my sister"). Dirty Dancing is another example; not particularly fond of Baby (speaking of whiners...), but like the movie as a whole. You get the gist. I hate whiners, but sometimes I like the movies they're in.

If/when I ever write a book I'm fairly confident that the main character will be somewhat unlikable, as there will probably some of myself ingrained into her (honesty is the best policy). I think it can be fun to dislike characters; my students are currently having a fabulous time hating Mildred in Fahrenheit 451, but as long as they can explain why I encourage the hating. Sometimes complaining and hating can be cathartic- and so much less painful or dramatic when it's a fictional character.

So next time you're reading something and you start hating on the main character, remember that it may be intentional and that you need to look at the bigger picture. We're not always there to cheerlead for the home team, but to serve instead as an objective observer who can scout out both sides.

Flavor of the Month

I'm shopping for a new hobby. Actually, that's probably a bit too generous- I'm shopping for a new phase, a flavor of the month. It happens occasionally. I'm sure not bored; between work, the house, my attempt at a social life, and getting ready to start training again I have more to do than hours in the day! But, I need something new, a break from everything else. And, like any good bibliophile, I turn to books for assistance.

1. Cycling: This is an exception from the whole "flav
or of the month" concept- I really want to add this to me fitness regimen permanently. I'm having a treadmill delivered tomorrow, so I think a bike is a bit in the future, but it's going to happen. I must also overcome my dislike for helmets, falling, getting hit by cars and changing flat tires.

2. Cake Pops: I've recently become obsessed with them. I loved them back a few years ago when they were just "cake balls" made at Christmas, but I need to make so
me. I hate the fact that they're so trendy (cake pops are the new cupcake), but they're bite sizes pieces of cake covered in candy. I'll have to put my need to contradict the general population aside. And I have weird desire to make them into little animals. I am checking myself for a fever. I must be ill.

3. Quilting: Let me clarify; I want to make a quilt out of
all my race t-shirts, since most of the businesses that do it for you charge a billion dollars (I'm not exaggerating. A billion). I'd also like to be able to attempt my future baby's bedding, but the main focus are my shirts. Me, me, me, me. I'm a very selfish person, sorry unconceived child.

4. Wine Drinking: I've been working really hard the last year or so to like wine. And by really hard I mean I try it when someone else buys it. I've gone from liking none to liking one (and it's a dessert wine, which is pretty pathetic). I need a book to teach me how to appreciate and choose wine. Either that or
I need to drink more. And more. And more. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's much more socially acceptable to have a glass or two of wine with dinner on a weeknight that a shot or two of tequila. All I know is that after I read Sideways I was all about drinking wine. Unfortunately, I was like 19 or 20 at the time and it was all about the Smirnoff Ices that we could convince people with fake IDs to buy us.

5. Hiking: Normally, I really hate getting dirty, but if I've mentally prepared myself ahead of time I can cope. I really, really enjoy hiking (I hiked all the way to the top of effing Half Dome with my brother a year ago) and I know that there are a million trails in
Southern California that I haven't taken advantage of simply because I'm not really sure where to look. Hence the need for a book. Preferably one with maps and pictures.

6. Yoga: I haven't had a lot of luck with yoga- I have a few videos that I'll do, but I know I'm not getting the full benefits (checking my phone for email during the cat pose or getting angry about dog hair on the floor may have something to do with it). I feel like I need to do it, though, since the running has started taking a toll on some of my joints and, according to the massage therapist last weekend, I "have way too many knots for someone so young" in my back (sorry, I have stress in my life and don't get to sit around listening to soft music and rubbing oil into people all day). A book might help convince me that I need to make more of an effort.

7. Vegetarianism: I'm definitely not going to take the full plunge into becoming a vegetarian, but I've reduced the amount of meat I cook quite a bit the last year and have tried to eliminate red meat completely (I eat it less than once a month). I would really like to read some of these books for the main purpose of getting some better ideas at how to more adequately supplement protein (and iron) into my meals.

I know, stingy, only three pictures. The right click button on my mouse is acting up [insert joke about my clicking my mouse here] and I simply do not have the patience tonight to use the ever-so complicated touch pad on my computer (after 9 months I still have failed to bond with my Apple and it's confusing finger tapping routines). And now I sound old.

How to Build a Library

After unpacking our clothes and the kitchen essentials, my next priority was of course setting up our "library." It was definitely a labor of love; we never put much time or energy into decorating the apartment during the five years living there, so I'm having a lot of fun doing it now.

Since people have actually asked me before, a quick note on organization. Fiction is first, in alphabetical order by last name, followed by the nonfiction. I'm not quite as much as a stickler for the real stuff; they're based in loose categories such as travel, history, art, biographies, etc... There are plenty of what my grandmother would refer to as "dust collectors" interspersed throughout to give personality but to also save place for later purchases.

My camera really does not like the lighting in that room at night, not to mention the fact I was in a total hurry. Now back to the rest of the house so I can finally start reading again!

Hole in My Heart

Confession: I haven't started a book since I ended A Visit From the Goon Squad while in one of the airports from the Chicago fiasco (note to self- write strongly-worded letter to United Airlines while the anger is still semi-fresh). Reading is on par with exercise to me: non-negotiable for sanity and health. Or, so I thought. Apparently I've allowed it to become negotiable, since the past two weeks have consisted of work, the dogs, and moving. Reading has not been fitting into this equation, since by the time I'm able to sit down for more than two minutes at the end of the day all I want to do is sleep. It makes me very sad. And it must be remedied pronto. Something is missing...

Reading Rainbow Revisited

Today, I was inspired. No, it wasn't the students, it wasn't the sense of accomplishment that comes with grading 100+ assignments, or the improvement in the stock market. It was my Reading Rainbow shirt and the very emphatic conversation I had touting the show's merits to a semi-jaded individual who has never seen it, nor seemed very impressed by my description. What? Now in awe of the Rainbow and LeVar? Unacceptable! Hence, inspiration to do some Rainbow/LeVar research.

Confession: When I picture LeVar he's always wearing his Star Trek
visor, which I guess let him see because he was blind? Or... I don't even know. All I remember is once he took the visor off on Star Trek and it creeped me out.

Anyway, what is our dear LeVar up to these d

First of all, he's gotten pretty old, in fact even older than
my mom, who's no spring chicken. LeVar is a whopping fifty-four years old, complete with grey hair- a far cry from his youthful exterior back in the day. Not that looks matter. Since the show ended in 2006 it appears like he's been up to a whole lot of nothing important. Guest appearances here, a few attempts at directing, blablabla- what could even remotely measure up the The Rainbow?

But, it gets better. Sort of.

He's relaunching Reading Rainbow through his company called RRKidz (LeVar, seriously, if you're teaching kids literacy you should spelling "kids" co
rrectly). Much like the show, it will include voice overs for stories, but also LeVar on different locations and... games. That's the one caveat- it's an iPad ap. First of all, I don't have an iPad, and if I did I wouldn't let my future child touch it (that or anything else remotely of value- and do not give me any of that "it will be different once you have kids" crap). Second of all, it's a subscription based service, which is a far cry from PBS. But, at least the show has been semi-resurrected.

People like to remake the opening song:

There is nothing better than a crowd of drunk people singing the theme song to Reading Rainbow...

Books on Your Back- Two for the Price of One

In honor of the seven million t-shirts I have folded and put into closets (more so the husband's than mine), here are two bookish shirts for you, brought to you by my favorite and yours (okay, probably not) threadless.com:Yes, a little hard to see, I know. Stop whining and move closer to the board or copy from your neighbor! Oh, wait... you guys aren't fifteen year old hormonal teenagers copying notes on symbolism. Instead, just click the direct link to see this cute little $20 shirt featuring different story covers.

Holy-moly golly-gee, do my eyes deceive me? It's a bookcase meant to look like a color TV. Sneaky, sneaky. One has to notice that they use a middle-aged model with a slightly round tummy. I like it. Take that Cosmo.

Back to unpacking. And by unpacking I mean going upstairs, taking a shower, and going to bed, because I've reached the point to where if I have to open another box I'm going to beat the nearest available person over the head with it. There's only one person that lives with me. Sucks to be him.

August Reviews- I Know, I Know

I should be packing right now, but I need a break- the last three days have consisted of car load after car load of boxes, when I'm not hanging out with my favorite 180 teenagers. So, sticking with the motif, here are the August reviews, a little late (I know, I know):

Book 1: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
343 Pages

A Box Of: Dead bodies

Yes! Dead bodies! Let's start it off bloody and violent, just like the crime novel In Cold Blood. This was for my AP students and chosen by our English Chair, but I enjoyed it as well. For those who aren't familiar, it's the story of how a midwestern family is brutally murdered... in cold blood. Get it? Get it? Anyway, I could lecture you on ethos, pathos, logos and a plethora of other rhetorical strategies employed by Capote, but now is not the time. If you like mysteries than give this a try (warning: a little slow to start).

Book 2: Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie
432 pages

A Box Of: Dead bodies

Yes, another box of dead bodies- these killed by the even more brutal mysterious Indian Killer that plagues Seattle in Alexie's novel. This was for book club, and like always, I appreciated the opportunity to discuss literature with intelligent people that don't answer questions with "idk." I must say that the story itself was better than the actual writing, but it was a quick, entertaining read that I enjoyed. Another mystery for those who love to guess "whodunnit."

Book 3: The Accidental Athlete by John Bingham
216 pages

A Box Of: Fat, clogged arteries, and tennis shoes

I keep going back and forth about whether or not I liked Bingham's memoir; when I wrote the review for Amazon I was about to run the Disneyland Half Marathon and was pumped about running, so I was kind. Now, I'm not sure. I appreciate the message that it doesn't really matter if you're fast or slow, talented or a klutz, as long as you try and enjoy yourself while exercising, but I felt somewhat bored at times. It can be read in an afternoon, so it's not like you're plowing through War and Peace, but there are definitely better running books out there.

Book 4: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
352 pages

A Box Of: Yearbooks and other nostalgic inducing memorabilia

I'd been looking forward to this book for quite awhile, even before Egan won the Pulitzer for it. It was a solid read; the narrative was so obviously crafted, the characters developed, and the language perfected. The novel begins with two characters, Bennie and Sasha, and then winds through their past to give the reader a better idea of how they end up they way they do. While the plot may jump around through time with different narrators, the underlying current of punk rock, identity acquisition and choosing your own path remains constant. There were a few slow spots, but as a whole I definitely recommend it.

I hope to get through one book in September. Two if I'm lucky. Twelve if I break my legs and am bed-ridden.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I initially typed "abstinence" instead of "absence." Ugh. What fun would that be? Anyway, to the point. So, in case you can't tell, blog-world has definitely been on the back burner lately, and will continue to be so for a little while more. Cue groans of agony and despair.

In case you care, here's why:

I went to Chicago for two days earlier this week to s
ee my favorite (and only) little brother graduate from Navy Bootcamp. The flight situation was horrendous and United made my first day of traveling a living hell (4 hour direct flight turned into 11 hours of traveling, two flights and a lost opportunity to actually see the city).

Then, I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon today wi
th my younger sister. Wasn't my best, wasn't my worst, and, more importantly, it was her first half.

We're moving! We finally bought a house and now- well, I'll spare you the details about painting and packing. I did have to sit down and explain to the books that their current cardboard box houses are only temporary and that they will soon have more shelf room and, even better, a room dedicated to them (our "formal living room" will actually be a library). They took it well.

So, I will be back with my August reviews soon (and I
even managed to read four books last month), but until then make sure your heart is growing fonder. And that you're not abstinent.