Friday, February 28, 2014

That's One Hurdle Cleared Then

I heard from the Provost that the Promotions Committee approved my promotion.

Next step: The Provost has to also approve it; then it goes to our board.  If both these agree with the Promotions Committee, I get promoted.

I also got a date: I should hear by March 21.

So that's some good news.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Support This Statement 110%

This is totally how I feel also!

(Tongue in Cheek) Conversation of the Night, via S.L. Huang.

The World in the 19th Century

Here's a link to some wonderful photographs of Paris in the mid-19th century (1860-1870s).

This is interesting to me not just because the photographs are cool, but because of something I read recently in Ann Romines' book on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Constructing The Little House (which is excellent, by the way).

Romines notes that although Wilder writes of a primitive, low-tech world, the time in which Wilder's books are set (1870-1880's) is in fact a relatively advanced world.  She notes, for example, that De Smet in the time Wilder is writing about had a roller-skating rink and an opera house.  This Paris is contemporary to Wilder's novels.

Romines is arguing that Wilder's texts deliberately present the world as more primitive than it was, for political reasons.  The world of Wilder's books is closer to the world of (say 1780) than 1880: Almanzo's mother still makes all of her own cloth, from the shearing of the sheep to the spinning and weaving; Pa still makes his own bullets; visits to stores and towns are presented as being rare and exotic; the world of the forest and prairie is presented as being almost wholly empty of people.

In fact, the actual Big Woods were filled with Ma and Pa's relatives -- some living literally next door -- as well as other families.  And the intense isolation of the prairies (only the Scotts, miles away; the Ingalls being wholly alone during the winter of Silver Lake) is just not factual.

It's often noted that Wilder erases the Indians from her landscape, and that's true.  But she also erases most of the white community as well.  It's a move that allows her to stress the overarching message of the series: that American families were and should be self-sufficient, that we don't need community, that the ideal world is one (white) patriarchal father, working for and protecting his family, alone and entirely independent and without any aid from the community, and especially without any aid from the government.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why I Should Never Respond To Comments


Over at Grounded Parents, my latest post, Why I Will Never Have My Kid's Password, is once again bringing out the vehemence.

I think I'm getting a little better at not reacting badly to snotty comments.  (A little.)

Meanwhile, though, it's wearing.

And obviously my own fault.  I should write more sweet non-controversial* posts.

Yeah.  That seems likely.

*My post reviewing Jon Muth's books, for instance, caused no trouble at all.  Apparently I should just be nice and say nothing very important.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Book Fangirl

Some of you may already know Rainbow Rowell, for her previous YA novel Eleanor & Park, which was a wonderful novel.

Fangirl is even better.

I won't give too many spoilers here, but Fangirl is about Cath, who as the book opens is starting her freshman year at college.  This is not like any first-year-at-college novel you have met before, however.

First, and maybe most importantly, Cath writes fanfic.  She doesn't just write it, she's a superstar, getting thirty-thousand some hits every time she posts a new chapter (of her fic for a alt.universe version of Harry Potter, called Simon Snow).

Second, Cath and her twin sister Wren have a complicated family life: a father who is manic-depressive; a mother who abandoned them when they were eight; their own issues with anxiety and other disorders.

Third, wonderful and fully-developed secondary characters, from Reagan, Cath's roommate, to Nick, the boy in her Fiction Writing class.  And of course Levi, whom you are going to love to bits.

I love everything about this book, which I stayed up way too late last night trying to finish, but the fanfiction aspect is my very favorite part, I think.

Far too often, teachers of writing and other writers treat writing fanfic like it's idiotic, and even corrupting for writers.

But in fact writing fanfic is very much like an apprenticeship for young writers -- that's one thing.  It gives them space to play and learn, and publish their writing, and get realworld reactions to that writing, in a way that just is not possible with "traditional fiction," whatever that is.

Further, the creation of fanfic is not, in fact, very different from what writers have been doing from the time writing began.  What are half the Greek tragedies, but fanfic of Homer?  What's Paradise Lost, but fanfic of Genesis? What did Shakespeare ever do that wasn't fanfic?

(Oh, but that's different, I've heard people argue, because that writing is good.  This tells me they have spent very little time reading fanfic, frankly.  Yes, crap fanfic exists; but 90% of everything is crap.)

Fangirl captures all this perfectly: from the skill and drive that Cath learns from writing fic, to the reaction from her teachers and peers who aren't part of the fic tradition, to just what is so compelling about writing and reading fanfic. ("It's never over," Wren tells her at one point.  "It's Simon.")  And -- importantly -- Cath pushes back at those who shame her for writing fic.

I'm leaving a lot of plot out of this review.  There's more plot than this!

And -- I see I have forgotten to mention! -- a cover by Noelle Stevenson.

What is not to love?  gingerhaze fangirl YA lit Noelle Stevenson rainbow rowell Cather Avery levi stewart

Update: Also, see this!  (H/t Nicole and Maggie.)

Unshelved strip for 2/14/2014

New Post at Grounded Parents

New post is up at Grounded Parents

This one is called "Why I Will Never Have My Kid's Password."

Go, read!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Is That Sexism In Your Comic, or Are You Really That Hapless?

So apropos of yesterday's post, here's a link to a Tumblr that posts examples of the sort of appalling objectification and sexism women have to deal with when they read comics and manga.

Called Escher Girls, it is run by Ami Angelwings; its stated mission is to archive the prevalence of distorted, sexualized portrayals of women in popular media.

Amy adds:

I created this blog as an archive of the way women are portrayed in fictional mediums because in my blogging I kept wanting to explain the ways women are portrayed in comics and I thought it would be helpful to have a collection of examples so critics couldn’t just say “oh that’s just an exception!”

I'm posting this partly because the Tumblr itself is great, and mostly because I think people who don't read comics or manga have no idea what we mean when we say women are objectified in these media.

Click through.  Look at some of the examples.  This isn't just a little T&A.

(My favorite so far, btw.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oh, Noelle Stevenson, Why You Want To Be Treated Like A Human?

Over here at Noelle Stevenson's Tumblr, she posts a comic on why she doesn't like to go to comic shops: comic.

In case you haven't been reading Stevenson's Nimona, it's one of the best online comics at the moment.  Not just me who thinks so either.  She's been getting a ton of recognition in the comic world and elsewhere.

So it's not like she's just some random person discussing this situation -- she's a professional, selling comics to major publishers and winning awards.

And yet: when she posted this comic on her blog, many of the comments were far from supportive.  Most (1) denied this problem even exists (2) said if it did happen, it was all Stevenson's fault, because she was too touchy, or she expected to be treated badly, or she was too weak and girly to stand up for herself, and therefore... (3) or called her out as a hypocrite, since how dare she object to being treated like a sex object when she had used the words "sexy" about a male comic book character or (4) just went straight to the incoherent ad hominem.

In the end, Stevenson had to shut off comments on the post and close her Ask box, at least temporarily, in order to escape from the vitriol.

One good thing came of it: her fans and other interested parties showed her a Tumblr which lists inclusive, non-asshat comic shops.

Stevenson's other advice for Entering Comic Shops While Female.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Post Up at Grounded Parents

Hey, y'all -- my new post is up at Grounded Parents.

It's a little different this time, being a review of the children's books written and illustrated by Jon Muth, who has won the Caldecott.  He writes wisdom literature for kids which will entrance them and knock you over.

Read it here: Book Review: Jon Muth

Monday, February 10, 2014

Talking About Religion

We're doing Jane Eyre in my Women's World Lit class right now.

As most of you probably remember, there are three religious characters in the book: Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John Rivers.

By "religious characters," I mean characters whose have their religion as their most salient feature -- certainly almost all the characters are Christian to some extent or another, including Jane herself.

In any case, today in class we were discussing what Brontë might be up to with these three characters; or more precisely with the use of religion and these three characters.

I want to make it clear, btw, that I didn't begin this branch of the discussion.  I was going on, as I often am, about agency and how St. John's use of Jane abrogated that agency, blah blah blah, when one of my students demanded to know if this arose from his perverted understanding of religion.

I paused.  Then I said, cautiously (I have learned to be cautious when it comes to religious discussions), "Elucidate, please?"

"Well, he seems like a hypocrite.  Talking about what God wants.  Like he knows what God wants.  When it's what he wants."

"Ah.  Well.  Yes.  Hmm."  I strolled about the front of the room. "We have three different religious characters in the book, yes?  Brocklehurst, Helen, and St. John.  Brocklehurst is pretty clearly meant to be a hypocrite, right?"

They all agreed eagerly.

"Which how can we tell?"

They eagerly gave me all the reasons.  Everyone hates Brocklehurst -- which is why he's such a weak character; Brontë set him up to be hated.

"And Helen," I said.  "Now she's legitimately religious.  Right?  She talks about forgiving your enemies and doing good to those who harm you, and then what does she do?  She goes right on and does it.  Yeah?"

"Like with Miss Temple!" a student agreed.

"Right.  Plus," I strolled back across the front of the room, "she makes Jane better.  Jane at twenty is better than Jane at ten, and that's due at least partly to Helen's influence.  Jane can forgive, she doesn't carry anger around, she can see past the harm that is done to her -- that's all because of Helen.

"But St. John," I said.  "What are we to make of his religion?"

"You don't think he's a hypocrite?" demanded the original student.  "He's using Jane to get what he wants.  Or anyway he's trying to."

"He's using Jane to get what God wants," I corrected.

The student snorted.  "What he says God wants."

"What he believes God wants," another student said gently.

I smiled a little.  "That's why some Jews hold that you're not allowed to do that," I explained.  "Say that this is what God says, that is what God wants.  That's taking God's name in vain -- that's what the second commandment is about, yeah?  You can't say God wants us to do this, because you're saying you know what God wants, and you just don't.  You can't.  You're not God.  It's hubris."

The first student looked keenly interested.  "So Jews don't believe in the Holy Spirit?"

I grinned at her.  "Just one God," I reminded her.  "The real one."

Everyone laughed.

"Anyway," I said.  "St. John does believe he's acting for God.  Does this make it all right for him to abrogate Jane's agency?"


But -- you know -- does it?

And the question of St. John's religion and what Brontë is doing with it is, I think, one of the more interesting questions of the book.  

St. John Rivers strikes me, from my modern vantage, as one of the more horrible characters in the text.  He's controlling and mean-spirited; he denies his sisters and Jane any agency over their own lives, or even over their own minds.  When anyone disagrees with him, on even the most minor of questions, he punishes them by withdrawing emotionally.  He demands that Jane reshape her intellectual, spiritual, and emotional life to fit his life-goals, and will permit no deviation.  When she objects -- when she says his behavior is doing her harm (and we can see she is not exaggerating) -- he dismisses her objections out of hand.  Frankly, I see him as worse than Brocklehurst, who at least only controlled the outer aspects of those around him.

Yet Jane herself admires him.  The text's last lines speak of him -- not Rochester -- and speak of him admiringly.  And it is hard for me to believe that Brontë means those lines ironically.

Like the ending of Troilus and Cressida, which turns abruptly from romance to religion, this ending has always itched at me.  

The rest of the text argues one way.  This ending argues another.  Which argument are we to believe?


Friday, February 07, 2014

Where Have You Gone, Joanna Russ?

Our Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Back story: This dude, Chris DeFilippis, who I am assured is a perfectly nice dude, though he is letting his privilege show in the comments here a bit, wrote what seems to be an annual post on his blog, the Best/Worst reads of the year.

His friend, fellow blogger, and SF writer, E. Catherine Tobler, noting that all the writers mentioned were male, emailed him, asking what his favorite reads by women writers were.  (More detail in her post here: The Women We Don't See.)

Alors! Chris realized he had read no books by women in 2013.

Or in 2012.

He did admit to having read Octavia Butler in 2011.

Is this a problem?  Although initially Chris seemed to agree it was, in the comments he seems to have a different opinion.

"...gender doesn’t enter into what I choose to read. At all. I just go into my library and grab the book that speaks to me at that moment. Which is why I took umbrage with one twitter replier who recommended a title to “remedy” the situation. It implies an ailment where none exists."


"Which is frankly why I don’t see the point of breaking down our reading habits into yearly percentages. Great fiction should be a discovery and a journey, not a homework assignment to check off a bunch of PC boxes."

So -- like many who hold a privileged position in society, no, Chris does not see a problem with the fact that he reads mostly only writers from his own gender, now and then (once in three years) reading someone who isn't white and male.

Gender doesn't matter to him!  Color doesn't matter to him!  It's just coincidence, see, that he only happens to read white men.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Update:  See also this, over at the Toast:  What Happens When You Tell People You're Only Reading Women.  (Don't skip the comments.)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Actual Conversation in the Delagar Household

(Explanatory headnote: About two months ago at an artists supply shop, the kid and I bought cool erasers. Mine was blue; hers was pink.)

Today, In the Living Room.  Snow Outside.  The Kid is drawing.  She notices the mug of pens and other implements by my chair.

The Kid: Hey.

Me: What.

The Kid: That's my eraser.

Me: No, it's not.  That one's mine.

The Kid: Well. But I can't find mine.

Me: That doesn't mean you get to have mine.

The Kid: Yes, it does.

Me: No, it doesn't.  Just because you lose your stuff, doesn't mean I have to give you mine.

The Kid: If I lost my slippers, you'd give me yours.  Wouldn't you?

Me: You don't get my eraser.

The Kid: What if I lost all my money.  You'd give me money.  Right?

Me: It's my eraser.

The Kid: If I needed a kidney, you'd give me a kidney.  I need that eraser!

Me: Go away.  It's mine.

The Kid (goes sadly away.  Over her shoulder): I can steal it when you're asleep.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

New Grounded Parents: Breaking The Rules

Over at Grounded Parents, my new post is up.

You can read it here: Breaking the Rules.

The artwork, by the way, is by a certain kid y'all have been reading about for some time now.