Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creative Endeavors and Cello Bracelets

With the start of the new year, I know a lot of bloggers have been talking about resolutions and what to look forward to--but it's also nice to look back on 2010 and see what people accomplished. One of my favorite blogs to read is Natalie C Parker's. She is thoughtful, hilarious, and succinct, and throughout 2010, she worked on what she called The Cello Project. For this project, she faithfully practiced the same piece of music for the entire year and documented it over the course of 12 videos (one per month). It's fair to say she's quite good. One of the things I like about her project is that it is an excellent example of good resolutions: it was both specific and doable, and even more exciting to see her follow through. It's certainly inspired me to make more of a commitment to my own creative endeavors this year instead of practicing them willy nilly. Anyway, to mark the completion of her project, she made two gorgeous bracelets out of her cello strings that she is planning on giving away: see pictures here.

This is the final installment, where she explains both the bracelet giveaway and plays the final, polished version of her project:


P.S. Natalie also writes free fiction at Tangled Fiction with two other writers. One of their recent stories, a retelling of Red Riding Hood, is quite awesome: girls' academy? Simulated wolf battles? I probably don't need to tell you it should be a full-fledged novel. You may also have heard of her if you read Tessa Gratton's blog on the regular.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award and Versatile Blogger Award

Kacie from Aussie Book Shack has honored me with the Stylish Blogger Award! For someone who has only been blogging since the new year, she's already establishing herself as a worthy new voice in the blogosphere. Thank you, Kacie!

Lulu from The Bookworm is Here was kind enough to pass on the Versatile Blogger Award to me as well (back in November!) but I'm only just getting to it now. Thank you, Lulu!

The rules for winning these awards are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
2. Tell us 7 things about yourself.
3. Award 15 recently discovered bloggers.
4. Contact these bloggers and let them know that they have won.

Seven Things:

1. I finished a complete first draft of a (very bad) novel for National Novel Writing Month 2010!
2. I went many years believing the word was "duck tape" not "duct tape."
3. The same with "wheel barrel" vs. "wheel barrow."
4. I was once under the impression that the alphabet mysteriously had two Ns. One in the usual place, and the other at the end: YNZ. It was only later that I would realize that everyone was really singing "Y and Z." My childhood was fraught with misunderstandings.
5. I rented, but was unable to finish Twilight in Forks, the documentary.
6. I love bookmarks, but fail to use them.
7. I am ridiculously good at facial recognition. You know how people will be watching a movie and someone will say "Oh, that's the guy--you know, the guy from that other movie"? I almost always know. And I can do it in the first second they come on screen. And sometimes with no more than a look at the back of their head. And we're talking minor characters. And extras. I even recognize YouTube stars--like Jeff Loveness--when he recently appeared on The Office. If it were a sport, I would be the star athlete.

There are lots of bloggers upon whom I would like to bestow these awards. All of the following bloggers are both stylish and versatile:

1. Book Infinity
2. A Tapestry of Words
3. 21 Pages
4. Alison Can Read
5. Books and the Universe
6. Crazy for Books
7. Fishing for Diamonds
8. Soon Remembered Tales
9. Supernatural Snark
10. The Book Owl
11. The Bookworm is Here!
12. Under a Star Studded Sky
13. The Flying Scribble
14. Steph Su Reads
15. The Creative Geek

Thank you everyone for making the online book community what it is!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 1/7-1/10

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Crazy for Books. Click here to join in or for more information.

This week's question: What book influenced or changed your life? How did it change it?

Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted was a big favorite of mine when I was younger (and still is, to be honest). It changed my life because it gave me a sense of the kinds of things I myself wanted to write. Ella is a really excellent character as well: She has a very strong sense of self, she's funny and observant, and she is literally fighting against a curse of obedience. Also, shout-out to Prince Charmont! It was one of those books where you want to read more exactly like it but you never really can find one to match it.


P.S. The movie version does not count in this, because that was effing terrible.

Book Review: The V Club

The V Club (2004) by Kate Brian

Inside Jacket: Are you in the club? When Victoria A. Treemont, the most revered and reclusive woman in Ardsmoe, Pennsylvania, passes away, she leaves behind a $160,000 scholarship fund that rocks the worlds of the students at Ardsmore High School. The successful candidate must "exemplify purity of soul, spirit, and body." Everyone agrees that this caveat can mean only one thing: The recipient of the scholarship must still be holding on to the big V.

Welcome to the V club--where members embrace abstinence, get off on civic duties, and heat up their chances to clinch the Treemont scholarship. What better way to prove purity than to pledge allegiance to the virginity flag? Besides, chastity belts are sooo 1300s.

Kai, Mandy, Debbie, and Eva have put their futures on the line. But will their deepest insecurities and darkest secrets ruin their chances at the scholarship, or worse, their relationships? Or will they discover the true meaning behind Mrs. Treemont's famous last words?

Review: Despite being from 2004, this book reads like a blast from the past with names like "Debbie" and "Mandy," a crop top as the height of fashion, and a writing style that reads like an instructional manuscript for sex-ed:

When I started reading, I expected the book to offer some interesting commentary on what it really means to be pure and I assumed that it would conclude that you don't have to be sexually abstinent to be a good human being. This is only somewhat the case. Kai, Mandy, Debbie, and Eva learn some lessons about being honest with one another (one kind of purity), but the focus really is on whether or not they've had sex. Brian tries to cover several angles: Debbie struggles with being the school slut despite never having slept with a guy; Mandy debates whether she should do it with her long-time boyfriend; Kai regrets having done it years ago; Eva has never done it. It still felt like a book that was more about abstinence being better than anything else. For example, Brian writes with such earnestness:

In this scene, purity-pledging hottie Riley Marx explains to Eva why he's waiting until marriage:

"I figure, what better gift can you give the person you're gonna spend the rest of your life with than to tell her you've been waiting for her?" (p. 98)

And then there's some examples of teens not talking like teens (much less people in general), as when Kai's ex-fling Andres says:

"You and I are old friends, Kai. We shared something very special. We should be able to cherish that." (p. 120).

Mandy and Eric also share a very special exchange where he knows what she needs more than she does:

"I...can'," Mandy heard herself say. "I just want everybody to leave me alone." But even has she said it, she wrapped her arms around him and held him tight.

"Well, you're in trouble, then, 'cause I'm not going anywhere," Eric said softly.

So, those were annoying things.

[SPOILER ALERT]: Even when Kai addresses the scholarship committee and launches into a fierce tirade against the "purity" requirement--and they all agree with her that it's a little ridiculous--nobody does anything about it. Eva and Riley get to split the scholarship and in fact, the final act in the book is a toast to their decision to abstain. There's nothing wrong with that decision, but Brian does seem to reinforce the idea that it's the best choice of all and thus rewards those characters more than the others.

Conclusion: 2/5. Boring characters, stiff writing, unbelievable dialogue, and a weird message.

2011 YA Reading Challenge: 2/40

For some more interesting discussions about purity, here are some links for your perusing pleasure:

1. The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti. Non-fiction. Informative and engaging!
2. Daddy I Do. Documentary trailer about purity balls.
3. This animation using a lesson from a real abstinence only educational program.
4. Jackson Pearce (of Sister's Red fame) is also writing a book about purity and the accompanying balls. You can read the synopsis here. I'm looking forward to seeing how she handles it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thoughts and Rants: A Link

After recently reviewing The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things (which is about a "fat girl") by Carolyn Mackler, I came across a post from Natalie Wilson at Seduced by Twilight that asks the question: Why are there no fat vampires? It's really interesting for both readers of Twilight and those interested in the way weight, fat, health, and beauty are spoken about in general.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book Review: The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things

The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things (2003) by Carolyn Mackler

Back Jacket:
Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and obeys the "Fat Girl Code of Conduct." Then there are the other Shreveses: Mom is an exercise fiend and a successful adolescent psychologist; Dad, when not jet-setting, or golfing in Connecticut, ogles skinny women on TV; and older siblings Byron and Anais are slim, brilliant, and impossible to live up to. Delete Virginia, and the Shreveses are a picture-perfect family...until a phone call changes everything.

Review: This book is superb; there are so many things to like about it! Mackler delivers us Virginia (named for Virginia Woolf) who is smart, but depressed with the general state of her life. She has relegated herself to the rank of "Fat Girl" and theorizes that fat girls are not like skinny girls and thus must adhere to a different code of conduct (like no public displays of affection and no talking to guys about relationship status). The book has its heartbreaking moments, as when Virginia overhears a group of popular girls saying they'd rather be dead than be chubby like her, but it's ultimately an optimistic, affirming book. I've probably said before that my favorite contemporary books are the ones where the protagonist is just starting to come into new ideas, test the boundaries of society, and take risks. Virginia is one of those characters. At first she turns her anger and hate inward, but through the course of the book she revolutionizes her life. It feels good to read these books because as Jennifer Crusie says in this interview, "these are women who are in real trouble and they struggle and they win." (In this instance she is referring to romance novels, but still). There's also a lot to be said for Virginia's close relationship to her older sister and her best friend, Shannon. Like E. Lockhart's Frankie, Virginia is introduced to some of the concepts that shake up her world through her older sister Anais, who listens to Ani DiFranco, and the teacher who has a class about ostracism and oppression. Thankfully, The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Granted, it's a test for movies. But still.

Conclusion: 5/5. Mackler delivers a fast, heartfelt novel. She uses complex characters and tightly drawn events to explore her themes. With each page, Virginia became a better and better character, leaving me with a sense of pride and possibility.


2011 YA Reading Challenge: 1/40

Fun Fact:
The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things was on the most challenged books of 2006 list for including "sexual content, anti-family, offensive language," and being "unsuited to age group."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 YA Reading Challenge

Happy New Year! Ushering us in to 2011 is For the Love of YA, who is hosting the 2011 Young Adult Reading Challenge. I'm committing to the "Jumbo" challenge, which is to read 40 YA books in a year, but you can go whole hog and do 50+! Happily, you can also do as few as 12. Check out the link for full directions.