All Books Young Women Should Read: Tamora Pierce

I have a young female friend who is fast becoming an avid reader of fantasy fiction. As a writer, a linguist, an English teacher, an most importantly, an avid fantasy reader myself, I believe it is my duty to introduce her to my list of All Books Young (Fantasy Loving) Women Should Read. The parenthetical is provided because most of these are fantasy novels, and some people just aren’t that interested in fantasy, though there are a few out there that are not fantasy.

Anyway, I was talking to Any, and after all I had to say was that opening sentences and she responded “Tamora Pierce!” Granted, she was primed for this response, as I told her I’ve been reading the Protector of the Small Quartet, by this author. But Tamora Pierce is the mother of contemporary girl’s fantasy fiction. Pierce started publishing in the 1980s, and thus far, she has published almost 30 novels, divided into roughly 8 series, as well as several short stories. What Pierce is best known for are her strong female protagonists, which is why Any thought of her first and why she tops my list. But there is a problem here. Tamora Pierce’s first quartet was about a young woman who wanted to be a knight, and the four books cover both her entire training and her making a name for herself as a knight. Thus the first two books each take place over four years, and though the series starts with a ten year old, it probably ends with a twenty-something. And because of this, the series, especially the later ones, cover some, ahem *adult* topics, and I worry that my friend’s parents will not want her reading the books for this reason.

Now, there are not a lot of stores out there that focus on women to begin with. Seriously, look at the books you read the TV shows you watch, examine how many women are in them. Furthermore, a lot of the women in stories exist in relationship to men. They are mothers or wives or girlfriends, and while women are all of these things, they are also more than that, but a lot of stories neglect to point this out. Even the stories that do focus on women will display them in this way–we have romance stories and women who gossip about shopping and men. While Pierce’s women talk about shopping and men, they also talk about politics, about managing money and lands, about learning and teaching important topics in the world, and thus, these “adult” topics. I put “adult” in scare quotes here because though they are often considered unsuitable for children, they are things that happen in life. They are topics middle and high schoolers are going to have to become familiar with one day or another, so Pierce decides to approach them in her novels. In short, Pierce trusts her readers, that they are mature enough to understand that these problems exist in their world, and that they are mature enough to be concerned about how to deal with these issues.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think all young women should read Tamora Pierce novels for the very reason that she more or less discusses anything and everything that a young woman will have to deal with in our society, from dealing with her period (which, quite frankly, is a subject that most books don’t deal with), to bullying, to dealing with general misogyny, to the various ways in which said misogyny manifests within society, not only for girls, but for women, and discusses all of these topics in such a way that they are accessible to both young and adult readers, which to me seems like a sign of masterful writing. Thus, Pierce’s books prepare readers for the conflicts they face on a day-to-day basis at the time they are reading, as for those conflicts they will face, in the years to come. And while I cannot begrudge my friends the right to raise their children as they see fit, I hope they recognize the importance of these books for young readers and choose not to wait until their daughter is older to let her read them.

Once Upon a Time: A Review

I mentioned in my last post (or what should have been my last post, it got posted at the same time as the other, so they ended up backwards, but whatever), that I love Peter Pan so much that I recently started watching Once Upon a Time just because Captain Hook shows up in season 2. I am now on season 2, episode 11, Captain Hook has shown up, and I am thrilled to see him. But the appearance of Hook doesn’t change the general feeling that Once Upon a Time is, at best, mediocre.

Granted, this is nothing new. The vast majority of shows on the air right now are mediocre. There are even shows I like more than Once Upon a Time, like White Collar, which I feel could be improved by some pretty basic changes. In fact, about the only show currently running that I feel really impressed by is Sherlock, and this is primarily due to my being a Holmes fangirl and the show being made by Holmes fanboys. Half my love for it is based merely in the fact that it is deeply steeped in Holmes canon and history.

What is my problem with Once Upon a Time? Well, for one thing, I don’t find their characters particularly interesting. They seem kind of flat and mundane. Additionally, I feel the female characters are particularly lacking. I mean, Rumplestiltskin and Hook are both great. Between them, they cover about 95% of why I watch the show. (The possibility of seeing Neverland and maybe Peter covers another 3). There are several other characters who I like, though not as much, like Grumpy and August and Jefferson. See what I mean? The only two females I really like are Ruby and Belle, who get very little screen time (though thankfully Belle is getting more, due to her association with Mr. Gold.) The female protagonist I am indifferent toward and Mary Margaret, the face of the show (this is the actress they always advertise) I actively dislike for being a cliched virgin angel who seems to exist more or less to fall in love with a prince and make a queen angry. (Granted, Snow White has more substance than this and I don’t mind her so much.)

But there is a greater problem, which is the show’s reliance upon Disney motifs. Granted, some of the details I cannot be sure of. For instance, not having read the original “Beauty and the Beast,” I don’t know if there’s a chipped teacup of importance, and while most versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” name her some variation of Briar Rose, Disney may not have been the first to switch this to Aurora. These are two features which Once Upon a Time Uses. But they also name the dwarves as they were named in the Disney film, which less face it, are kind of stupid names. In fact, every time I hear the dwarves named, I cringe. Poor Grumpy deserves an original and better name. They also briefly introduced Gus Gus the mouse. Now, I’m told the French version of “Cinderella” actually has mice that run around and sing and help her, but Gus Gus specifically seems a little too Disney. My brother says they had to do this to appeal to a broader audience (i.e. the general public who know only the Disney versions of fairytales.) While this may be a legitimate excuse for making Belle a lover of books (which I don’t take issue with anyway), but Disney-fiying their story down to the color and design of Belle’s dresses is more than a little overboard.

The creators’ lack of attention to the original stories hit a gross magnitude with the introduction of Hook. First of all, they named him Killigan Jones. Killigan Jones? Seriously? I thought everybody knew that Hook’s name was James. And they certainly didn’t rename Dr. Frankenstein Bob or rename Belle Lucy. So why rename Hook? Maybe because he’s not referred to by his first name in the Disney films, which are their only source of fairytales (if they had seen any production which refers to his first name, they would know to call him James. I don’t believe I have seen a version that calls him anything else before this.) But grossest of all is that Hook’s hooks is on his left hand. Again, the only version I have seen to make this mistake is Disney. All others depict Hook with his hook on his right, probably because that’s how Barrie wrote it. I know this a nit picky detail, but to me it displays a carelessness so astute that I’m surprised they didn’t give Hook long black curls and big red coat (though I’m glad they didn’t–this would have given him a different demeanor, and I like him as he is.) Furthermore, it’s the nit oicky details that usually bother me more because it’s not deviating from the story that bothers me, it’s deviating without reason. In Once Upon a Time, Hook has his hand cut off by Rumplestiltskin, not Peter Pan. This doesn’t bother me because it’s necessary to the story they want to tell and it’s reasonable within the canon of the show. But changing his hook hand from the right to the left or changing his hame from James to Killigan has no bearing on the character. Therefore, it’s offensive that they can’t keep these details straight out of respect to the original character. I mean, if you’re going to change everything, just because you feel like it, you might as well create a new character of your own.

Don’t get me wrong though. Hook is not the problem here. This Killigan Jones may be an imposter, but he’s one of my favorite Hooks of the screen. (And remember, Colon O’Donoghue is competing with the likes of Cyril Richards, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Isaacs, and Rhys Ifans.) But the lack of attention to detail regarding his character reveals to me, not an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, but sheer laziness on the part of the creators. In complete opposite fashion of Sherlock, they choose to ignore the original stories and use only the watered down Disney films as their reference. This, in turn, results in the watered down characterization and themes that the Disney films have. In fact, the reason Rumplestiltskin is so good could be that Disney has never done a version of the story, so they had to look elsewhere for references. But the creators’ reliance on a single, shallow source of the literature is what makes the show, at best, mediocre.

The Birthday Post

I have a habit of cos playing the character of whatever my big project is each year. No, it’s not constant, but it’s constantly in the back of my mind: what would xxx do? I change around my wardrobe, my haircut, and even my Apples to Apples answers to get into character. And it works. I find that playing the character helps me get into their head. This year, the project is Barrieville (have I mentioned how much I love Peter Pan?) about a small town, and the protagonist, and the eighteen year old Violet who serves as the protagonist is fittingly cast.

Violet’s starting point was playing foursquare, which was introduced to me as “that game that little kids play.” This, combined with living in Barrieville has given her, to me, an atmosphere of childhood and nostalgia. Thus, it was childhood and nostalgia which inspired my birthday dinner plans.

It was on a weekday this year, so we weren’t going tk have much time to cook, and I got to thinking, what can I cook fast, that fits in my theme? Answer: macaroni and cheese. And garlic bread, with baked eggplant dipping sticks if it wouldn’t take too long. And I would invite Ivy and Jan. We were good to go! But when I told my mom about the plan, she didn’t want mac and cheese, so she kind of decided that instead, we would have shrimp and grits. Granted, these were the chile lime shrimp I had intended to make last year, but last year had a whole different theme. I had a different character, and a different cake. (Oh yes, the cake has a lot of factor in the theme for the party. This was going to be a chocolate cake with chocolate-hazelnut mousse, which to me is a simple cake reminiscent of birthday parties from long ago.) So I still wanted my mac and cheese, but it didn’t happen. And Ivy couldn’t get off work.

But the party went well nevertheless. Jan made it and she and my family all got along splendidly. And regardless of my dinner plans being… foiled… the cake was splendid.

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This is the first effectively tilted tiered cake I have made. I did make one once before, but the tilt was so insignificant that the decorations lent more to the rakish appearance than did the actual tilt. But by the end of this cake, I had figured out the method, and made the cake tilt so well that my parents worried the top tier would fall off. I also figured out a method for making chocolate decorations. See, it’s very easy to make chocolate cake decorations out of candy melts, which are like chocolate with oil in them. But the oil is usually partially hydrogenated something something, which I’m less inclined to use. But if you melt regular chocolate and try to pipe it, it hardens in the bag because it has a higher melting point. You can make your own candy melts by mixing chocolate with coconut oil. I tired this, but the texture of each color came out completely different. But I achieved these decorations by mixing the chocolate with just a little bit of cream. And I did them all freehand, so they came out rather big. And the cream-chocolate doesn’t paint as well, though it pipes well, so I will have to come up with a new strategy for painting chocolate. Nevertheless, I think this is my best success yet. Oh, and since we ate the top tier on my birthday, I was able to bring the bottom tier the next day for my co-worker’s birthday. :D

The Post Birthday Post

Have I mentioned how much I love Peter Pan? I love Peter Pan so much that I recently started watching Once Upon a Time just because Captain Hook shows up in season two. This is why it was such a big deal last year when I told my mom I love Patrick Rothfuss as much as I love Barrie. This is more than really liking a book. This is obsession, the kind of thing that happens once a decade. So imagine my surprise when I picked up N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and promptly became just as obsessed.

Granted, there was some lead up to this. It began with my fantasy pin-up calendar, which I bought through Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders charity. When I opened the September picture, My draw dropped. Lee Moyer is a good artist, and all of the pictures are beautiful, but his drawing of Oree from Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms (the second book in the same series) is absolutely gorgeous. And being my birth month, it’s extra exciting that September’s picture is the best (in my opinion). Ad I love the way he drew the calendar too. It was fitting for my personality. I wish all my calendars looked like that. Then, going through the ays, I find Nora Jemisin’s birthday marked the day after mine. (Hence the pst birthday post). Then when I picked up the book, her words tried to explode my head more than once per chapter, and that’s before all the commentary about gender and racial relations in our society. So I started reading her blog. And Nora Jemisin just got more awesome. She’s all about standing up for the rights of women and people of color and she’s feisty and beautiful and I really want to meet her!

Anyway, point being, my feelings for Nora Jemisin are as strong as those for James Barrie, and in honor of that, happy (belated) birthday N. K. Jemisin!

Domestic Chess

Cleaning house has practically become a domestic chess ga,e between Ethan and I. Perhaps chess is too strong a word, as it is very strategic, and I know someone out there is going to tell me “Mel, you’re a writer, you of all people should know that the chess metaphor is a cliche.” So take whatever game you want–Risk, Monopoly. Pandemic, Gloom, dominoes if you so choose. Isn’t there a game out there when you collaborate with players on one goal and compete on another? Because that would be the perfect analogy.

We take turns in the care of the household. Ethan does so mowing, I do some cleaning, he mows more, I clean more, he cleans a bit, I clean a bit, etc. We never talk to each other about it or divide chores or anything, we just take turns, as if moving pieces. And I don’t know if he feels this way, but it strikes me as if in doing so, we are advancing on each other, as if for each bit of cleaning we do, we gain power over our opponent (i.e. Ethan! I have cleaned the bathroom, cleaned out the refrigerator, de-spidered the pantry, and taken the trash to the dump. Mow the lawn!–only this hasn’t been said.) AND with each move our opponent makes, we each have to move quickly before they use their power against us.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m thinking about posting some book review come soon. Let me know what you think.

Guilt

As much as I love to cook, I have decided I am not cut out for restaurant work. Oh, I could do it if I had to, but I don’t want to. Because I don’t enjoy it. Now that I’ve got the school job, I find that I wake every morning and think “Oh joy! I get to work with ___________ today! Let me go through my mind and remember what this student is having difficulty with. What’s a good activity to help this student better understand this?” It’s like each day is a puzzle and I love seeing the kids and my co-workers and I basically love doing what I do. But I’ve come to dread the weekends. Because at the end of the week, I have to go the pizza parlor. Four days out of my week, I have to spend a whole four hours there. Four hours. It doesn’t seem like a lot. But it feels like a lifetime. It passes slower than Subway. Wow. Didn’t think I’d say that.

In short, I feel like a mouse. I feel like a mouse and my boss is a cat, toying with me. It’s like she lies in wait for me to make a mistake and then berates me for it. “Melissa, you’ve put too much on this pizza. See how these are stacked up like that? Too much. That’s too much. Feel how heavy it is. Come over here and pick it up. See? See how heavy it is? That’s just too heavy for a supreme pizza. And that’s only half a supreme. It’s just too heavy. That’s too much. You have to put less. That’s practically extra. It’s going to bring our food cost up. It’s too much. Just too much….” Yes. This is the kind of thing she says to me. Instead of saying, “hey, you need to put a little less, okay?” she rubs my nose in it and goes on and on and on for minutes, and she has a habit of getting in a fit over the smallest details. “Don’t twist that bag so much! Don’t twist that bag so much! Never you twist that bag like that. You don’t need to twist it that much. You’re going to tie it so we can’t get it undone…” (This was over a bag of cheese which I was twisting to make one of those knots with a loop in it so you tug on the end and the whole knot comes out. The thing is, for me anyway, when the top of the bag is twisted nice and tight, the knot is cleaner and more likely to come undone and when tugged on, as opposed to some part of the bag getting stuck and making a new knot that can’t be undone.)

She does it to the other new person two, and over even smaller things. Like abbreviations. See, I’m in the kitchen. The other new person’s at the counter, and she got snapped at for writing out the words “black olives.” Seriously, it’s this lady’s second day and she gets yelled at because she doesn’t know the usual abbreviations? It’s not like we couldn’t read the ticket. It would have been just as easy to say later, “by the way, you can write BO instead of black olives. That’s the usual abbreviation,” as opposed to “It’s not black olives! It’s BO!” as if the world will end because someone forgot to abbreviate a word. I felt so bad for her. It wasn’t fair someone was talking to her that way. But at the same time, part of me thought thank God it isn’t me

Well, last night did it. I put a pizza in the oven and forgot it. Yes, I will admit, I am at fault for that. I should have been paying more attention. (Though truth be told, I forgot about it because I was thinking about how miserable I’ve been working there and wondering if it’s worth it–I’ll get to that in a minute.) So when she opens the oven door, the crust of the pizza has started bubbling up real big–we’re supposed to pop the bubbles before they get to big they make the pizza look icky. And she says, “Well, Melissa, you have to open the door sometimes. You forgot about this pizza. You have to open the door sometimes. That’s why you set the timer. Set the timer in your head. Pay attention. Don’t forget to open the door. You have too peek in on it. Otherwise it does this. They start bubbling after two minutes. You have too keep an eye on it. You just ruined this pizza….” That was it. It was all I could do not to burst into tears in front of her. And when the other new person came to the back, she understood. “I felt that way the other night,” she said. And when my boss started talking to me all cheerful about what’s going on in my life, I wanted to slap her across the face and snap “it’s none of your business!” For all that I felt I got no respect at Subway, I feel like I get even less here, and I’m done. Maybe that’s just the way things are in restaurants, “sharp-tongued,” as my co-worker put it, and maybe I’m just too sensitive to work there. But if that’s the case, it’s time I packed up and left.

And Lord, what a blessing the end of this job would be. Aside from having a much lighter heart and no longer hating half the week, I would have a weekend (I currently work seven days a week. It sucks.) And all the time I spend working there and driving there and scarfing dinner between jobs? I would have that to go home, take a rest, and get my homework done. At a more leisurely, reasonable pace. But alas, my ethics bind me. When I hired on at the pizza parlor, I told them I expected to be around until the end of the school year. I don’t know if I can take that anymore. And truth be told, when I hired on, I expected only to be working in the schools as a substitute, not as a full time paraprofessional, which would have given me a much more flexible schedule. But the pizza parlor’s understaffed as it is, and I hate to leave them two cooks short. So, if I put in my notice, I feel guilty leaving them in a bind. But if I stay on, I feel guilty toward myself and miserable besides. What would you do?

Sick and Tired

So this is what it feels like to work full time and go to school. I don’t think I like it. Granted, between my job and volunteer hours last year, I don’t think I’m putting in a whole lot more time this year, but due to re-setting my schedule for my new position in the school, my body’s gotten literally sick of my running around. What’s worse, between the two jobs, I now work every day of the week. What’s a student to do?