The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The holidays tend to be a little displacing.  Finals and school run right up to the holidays and get as close as they can to a full on collision before pulling up and out leaving me slightly shell-shocked and before I’ve recovered I’m off to celebrate with family. All sense of routine is thrown to the wind and nothing seems to be in quite the right place. This is why The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss was exactly the story I needed to read right at this moment. It’s an odd duck of a story but it is one that manages to convince you there is a chance the off-kilter can be tipped back into its cozy rightful place.

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Both before and after the story Patrick Rothfuss informs the reader that this story is not a great one to start with if you are new to his world. I have to agree with that sentiment and am so happy to say that I have read the first of his Kingkiller Chronicle and you can read my thoughts on that here. The Slow Regard of Silent Things delves into the world of Auri, a character that shows up in his other books but (and I say this having only read the one) is by no means a main character.

I know I have said quite a bit now that this is an odd book but it is worth repeating just because it may aid in the reading of it. I have found that the “ride the wave” style of reading is often the best way to go into these sorts of things but this wave may not take you to the shore. Auri lives and spends her time in the “Underthing” (below the university) and this book is a glimpse into that life. There are hints about who she was before she became who she is but that is not really the point of the story.

The point of the story is to see Auri’s world through Auri’s eyes and heart. Auri spends a lot of time making sure everything is in its proper happy place. This, by itself, would not be enough to make the story enticing, or even really, a story. It is Patrick Rothfuss’s poetic and carefully chosen words that make this story such a comfort. While reading I got the impression that Auri thinks about things the way Rothfuss must think about words. Every one has its own rightful and needful spot and the world just will not be quite right until it is there. I took some time to read part of the book out loud because the words were so carefully placed it seemed the right thing to do and was rewarded in way that, until then, only poetry had rewarded me.  It rings true in a happy way, to have the words in Auri’s story cared about as thoughtfully as she cares about her world.

 

Common Place Book Entries:

“It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to be itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

“She felt…less. She felt tamped down. Dim. More faint. Feint. Feigned. Fain.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

“Some days simply lay on you like stones. Some were fickle as cats, sliding away when you needed comfort, then coming back later when you didn’t’ want them, jostling at you, stealing your breath.”

-The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Doubt A parable

Here’s an interesting thing: at this moment (and this could change in the next) I find the preface to Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley a more interesting thing to think about and discuss than the play itself. Which feels like a foolish thing to say because, of course, the preface is directly related to the play. Doubt is a play that tackles a lot without hitting you over the head with what it’s tackling. It’s a prime example of the audience participating in the moment with live theater (I imagine…I haven’t actually seen the play I’ve just read it). The moment John Patrick Shanley wrote is real and, I think, still relevant, but the spine of the play, doubt, and his ideas about it are more relevant than ever in the  context of 2016.

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I’ll say this about Doubt, it is interesting and incredibly well written. It’s set in a Catholic Church/school and tackles so many issues that could appear in that setting without really ever directly attacking them. It’s an artful incitation of doubt. As a written piece it’s clear to see why it’s produced (small cast, easy sets, ect) and as a story it’s easy to see why people watch it and love to talk about it. In researching it a little bit I found that the original cast liked to say that the second act of the play is the audience leaving and discussing it to try and decide what they believed. I think that’s exactly what I love so much about it. Given the opportunity I would love to see this performed and strongly recommend it to people who do have that opportunity!

All that said, I would also like to recommend the preface to the play. You know how people describe things like Shakespeare and Van Gogh and Mean Girls as timeless? I don’t know for sure that Doubt is timeless, it’s an “only time will tell” type of thing. Will we always remember the scandals of the Catholic Church?  Will the Catholic Church continue to be relevant?  I suspect for a very long time, at least, it will; but the idea behind the play, the doubt, the discussion he has in the preface, I don’t think that will ever go away.

In the preface Shanley asks, “Have you ever held a position in an argument past the point of comfort?” Even if the answer to that used to be no, if you live in the USA, after this last election your answer has almost certainly changed. He asks, “Have you ever given service to a creed you no longer utterly believe?” Even if we’re not willing to own to doing this, at the very least we can point to many many many people that have (for the record, it is my opinion that those that aren’t willing to admit to this are, invariably currently doing it…just one ladies opinion).  Many of us have found ourselves on shaky ground and staring down disbelief at the decisions of friends and family and power. It is Shanley’s point that this disbelief, the shaky ground, the doubt, is an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to lean into the unknown and let yourself fly away from the “shared certainty”.

I’ve had and overheard several conversations in the past couple weeks that amount to, “what now?”  The ground is as shaky as it’s ever been and the doubt is but one aspect of a tangible and valid fear. The storm of self-reflection that happened immediately after the election was at once overwhelming and encouraging. What I see now is people yearning for a place of comfort. The answer to the questions, “What now?” and “How do we continue?” should not involve a place of shared certainty. The desire for comfort and someone telling us what is right and wrong, the trust in outdated systems that have forgotten what the spine of their purpose is will lead us to ruin.

Read the preface to Doubt (it won’t take more than 10 minutes) and you’ll find him writing about a place you recognize.  Shanley points to “that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.” as a moment of change, of courage, and of passion.  We are in that moment, what we do with it is entirely up to us.

Read the preface here.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Common Place Book Entries

“deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know…anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When trust is the order of the day, predators are free to plunder.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is the crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“But innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil.”

-Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Ok, if you read my last post about Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older, then you know I’ve been thinking a little bit about the dualities contained within individuals lately. Broderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa is the epitome of this conversation from a her own real life perspective. A fair warning; this book is not all in English.  Now, the only language that I know is English, I still knew what was going on and I believe I gained something from reading the book. I did spend enough time on Google Translate figuring out the Spanish parts of the book to know that if you speak Spanish and English you’ll a get fuller more complete and textured reading experience. I suggest everybody read this book, and, if anything, not knowing Spanish will make more visceral to the English speaking reader the experience of many Latinx, Chicanx, and Spanish speaking Americans.

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Borderlands/La Frontera is a collection of essays and poems in which Gloria Anzaldúa explores how we define ourselves via her own experiences as a Chicana, a lesbian, an activist, and a writer. Her essays are not her already set in stone definitions of what it means to be each of these things rather, they depict her efforts to simultaneously embrace and reject the social expectations that come with each label to be at peace with the “she” she is. Gloria Anzalúa grew up right next to the Mexican/United States border which she points to as a physical manifestation of the ideas she’s talking about, the borders contained within. The life she describes living is one of never being quite enough; no matter what group she was encountering there was part of her that had to be suppressed,  shamed, or hated. This self hate is aided and encouraged by every culture’s desire to be better than “the other”, instead of embracing and appreciating the differences in each other and ourselves.

This is a lot for just one book to cover, especially since she’s not restricting herself to just one “border” within, she’s talking about all them. What I appreciate about this book is that she’s tackling a large topic with a microscope pointed towards herself.  It would have been very easy for her to be very academic and look at statistics of various groups that support her points and separate each issue into it’s own chapter. Instead she bares all to the reader. She let’s herself become the studied and vulnerable which adds a beautiful and heart wrenching amount of texture and feeling to the book.

In particular, I appreciate that she is a poet.  If I didn’t know before reading her essays, I certainly would have figured it out while reading. She uses such beautiful language and imagery.  Now, you don’t have to be a poet to pick the most perfect word, but poets certainly have a knack for it. She’s discussing intangible, abstract ideas that if she’d tried to be less poetic, it would have been significantly less effective. She layers facts and feelings by choosing the most exact word to puncture indoctrinated ideas of who we have to be. It made my little poet heart very happy.

Common Place Book Entries:

“Humans fear the supernatural, both the undivine (the animal impulses such as sexuality, the unconscious, the unknown, the alien) and the divine (the superhuman, the god in us).  Culture and religion seek to protect us from those forces.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The queer are the mirror reflecting the heterosexual tribe’s fear: being different, being other and therefore lesser, therefore subhuman, in-human, non-human.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“Silence rose like a river and could not be held back, it flooded and drowned everything.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

“The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman.”

-Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Half-Resurrection Blues

If you read my post on Shadowshaper and/or this years Nerdcon: Stories then you know that I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the author of Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older. I was very excited to pick up more of his books but life and school kept getting in the way. Finally, I picked up this book because I wanted a little break from the school stuff I’ve been reading and wouldn’t you know it, I found a relation between this book and the things I’ve been thinking about for school. Maybe subconsciously I didn’t want a break from school I just wanted a fantasy perspective.

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This is the first the A Bone Street Rumba series and it does not start slow. Daniel José Older takes us directly over the cliff and into the action. Right off the bat we find out that our main man, Carlos Delacruz is kind of dead. He toes the line between the dead and the living and can communicate and interact with both, though he’s working for the New York Council for the Dead. I think it’s interesting thinking about this book compared to Shadowshaper because Shadowshaper is very clearly a young adult book (in that it’s content is a little scrubbed up to be appropriate for all ages) while this, in my opinion, should be read by all ages, it has not been scrubbed up.  It’s a little grittier, a little darker, and a little more real (which is an awesome thing to be able to say about a story that has ghosts in it!)

This story cast a fantasy light on an issue that I’ve been learning, reading, and thinking about a lot lately, which is the tension between the dualities within us. What I mean by this may become more and more clear with the next couple of posts as I discuss it in different contexts. Within the context of this book we have Carlos who, as far as he knows, is the only being that can communicate and interact with both the living and the dead. These are two communities that are in danger of forgetting exactly how much of an effect they have on each other. Invariably one’s actions and activities will influence they others existence. Carlos is left trying to navigate two worlds and neither of them are set up for the whole of him. This story doesn’t dwell on it too much, but I think that’s a characterization of Carlos. If he lets himself steep in the unfairness and impossibility of his situation then that’d be letting the outside sources tear him apart. He’s got to keep moving, keep working, and keep fighting. His journey even just within this story is fascinating which makes me so excited to see where he’ll go in the series.

Half-Resurrection Blues has action, adventure, some badass ladies (which will never ever stop making me happy. Seriously, read this book and let me rave to you about how Kia is my favorite), and bureaucratic deception and secrets. I am so impressed by Daniel José Older’s ability to layer the complexities of essentially two separate worlds on top of fully developed and rich characters with personal stories the reader can’t help but be invested in. I absolutely can not wait to dig into the next few books in this series!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

 

Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America

Wait! Before you let the idea of reading a history book scare you away, hear me out! First of all this book is fascinating, well written, and totally deserves a chance. If you shudder at the thought of reading a history book or a nonfiction book or reading in any form, I’ve got you covered! There is a documentary version of Harvest of Emipire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez here!  It’s on youtube so, minus the opportunity cost of having to watch a few ads, it’s totally free!  The book and documentary cover the same topics. The book goes more in depth but the movie gives you a solid idea of the topics covered and is totally worth your time. Of course, I’m going to talk about the book, because, well, that’s just what I do.

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Full disclosure I read this for a class. I really think that’s part of what makes it awesome, this is the first history related reading assignment that I’ve been excited to get back to reading each week. The book is split into three sections entitled Roots, Branches, and Harvest.  That alone is a fascinating lens through which to view history. I think we often see the past as a movie that we can watch because those things all happened then and we are living now. The connections are loosely there, but for the most part we get so bogged down in the present we forget to think about how we got here. Which is kind of a big deal because we are creatures of habits and patterns and there are some things that we’ve done that need to be acknowledged, remembered, and studied so we don’t repeat them. This point is particularly relevant with this book and the United States current political climate (I am so sick of hearing that phrase I  want to take a moment and apologize for using it… blegh).

The first section, Roots, goes deep into American history, primarily Central and South American history but it occasionally touches on North American history to make a point. I think what really drew me in was the question asked from the get go. Why is North America so incredibly different from South America? How did that happen? This is something that had been on the periphery of my mind for sometime, especially after having read Sudden Death which went into some South American history that intrigued me, but I can’t say I remember learning any of what this book was going over in high school or middle school. The perspectives of the overlapping bits of history were so vastly different that I had to really search my memory for the connections between what I was taught back then and what I was reading today.

The perspectives that are being ignored are what we are faced with when we talk about immigration these days. I’d like to say that I could give a well articulated argument about why building a massive wall and kicking anybody of Latin@, Hispanic, or non Euro decent out of the country is an awful terrible idea and I do think it is a terrible idea for many many heartful reasons. Heartful reasons simply aren’t enough, facts about how we’ve gotten to where we are, are essential. Heart needs to be mixed into the facts in order for policies, laws, and countries to be changed for the better. Juan Gonzalez does an excellent job of combining the facts with personal narratives from people who lived the facts. He did this country by country which, unfortunately, got a little redundant because bad patterns were forming in the United States behavior towards it’s Southern neighbors. As critiques go this one is weak, if anything the redundancy makes Gonzalez’s point about the cause and effects of our actions abundantly clear.

The truth is until I read this and really studied the hows and whys of who we are as a country today I was living in a constructed reality. It is so important to dissect what we are learning and make the effort to learn about other perspectives on the same topic because, ultimately decisions are being made based of the lens we’re looking through. No matter where you stand on immigration, politics, or books make and effort to learn as much as possible. Even if it means watching the documentary instead of reading the book.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

 

Nerdcon: Stories 2016

I bought my ticket for Nerdcon: Stories on impulse this year. It was after I knew I was going back to school but before I knew the schedule and I didn’t tell anybody for  while because I was on the fence about contacting Nerdcon and returning the ticket. I am so very happy that I decided to play hooky with school and attend this wonderful event. I was lucky enough to, totally by chance, end up in the same Airbnb as a fellow attendee of the conference. I went by myself last year (read about that here) and fully planned on flying solo this year as well, but it was so nice to have someone to nerd out with. I also loved that I could count on my new friend to tell me about the interesting panels and events that she went to and I missed. I think there is value in attending events like this one alone but part of that value is that you get to meet great new people like my new friend, Michelle!

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Some of you may know that Hank Green put up a video explaining that, from a business perspective Nerdcon was a failure. Tickets didn’t sell as well as they planned, and some other things, but honestly, just go watch the video. I haven’t attended a ton of other conferences (i.e. I haven’t attended any other conferences) so I have no point of reference, but I think that part of what makes Nerdcon great is that it is so small. In the most selfish (self destructive?) way possible I’m happy that they didn’t sell all the tickets. I don’t love dealing with huge crowds for even just a few hours much less an entire weekend. I was never elbowing or getting elbowed for the sake of making it to a certain panel, I knew that I would get in and it would be calm, and if I ran into someone awesome once, chances were I’d run into them again.  That’s my kind of conference. To let the hippie version of me take over for a moment, I dig the chill environment, man. I understand that, ultimately, the business aspect of a con need to be profitable (or at least break even) in order for it to continue, but if this was a failing con then it was the most successful, lovely failure I’ve ever witnessed.

This year the con felt smaller than last year and I’m not sure if that’s because there may have actually been fewer people or if the vibe was just more intimate. Playing into this intimate feeling was the very cool opportunity to go to a kaffeeklattsch with various panelists. The kaffeeklattsch that I was given was with Daniel José Older (whose book I talked about recently here). It was me, nine other wonderful people and Daniel José Older in a conference room talking about books and writing for an hour. (If you were wondering this is, essentially, my idea of what heaven must be like, conference room after conference room filled with coffee, tea, and smart people talking about writing and books.) This was such a wonderful opportunity and experience. What was extra awesome was I happened to sit next to one of the ladies in the kaffeeklattsch during a panel later that day! Friend goal of the day: accomplished.

There were several panels and conversations throughout the weekend discussing inclusion of minorities in various genres and how important it is. It astounds me a little bit that anybody gets pushback when they try to write a character that they and others will relate to. One of the more heart wrenching moments of the weekend was hearing author Cindy Pon talk about how her second book got rejected by several publishers because they already had an Asian fantasy book. This is so mind boggling dumb to  me that I think I actually sputtered and harrumphed out loud when I heard it. It was mentioned that those with established power (white/male/able bodied) see someone as the protagonist that doesn’t mirror themselves they get scared. To those people I posit, do you really want look in the mirror and see what you’ve got memorized already? Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting to look in the pond and see some new worlds? It’s so easy, no matter the story, to find common ground with the characters, no matter their life experiences, they are still human (depending on the story this may not be true but there are usually some human traits and qualities stuck in there somewhere). At the risk of overextending this metaphor, I think it’s so important to look into the pond to see how your reflection plays out in unfamiliar worlds. The whole learning empathy from stories doesn’t work if you only read stories that you recognize from your own life.

With this in mind, I recommend going to the NerdCon website here to find the names of all the wonderfully kind and talented authors that participated in NerdCon, buy their books, read their stories, and support their art. Happy reading!

Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.