Friday, July 22, 2016

Further Leonard Adventures

Yesterday, on my drive home two separate and incredibly disturbing things happened.

Thing #1
A driver changed lanes and moved right behind me.  No, that's not the disturbing part.  I saw the driver in my rearview mirror, and s/he was grinning at me.  I did not recognize this person.  They had white hair cropped short and I still don't know the person's gender; I couldn't tell (and it's not really relevant to the story).  But s/he appeared to be grinning at me -- not just smiling, but full on, teeth showing, grinning.

I didn't know this person.  I tried to surreptitiously look around me.  Was there something hilarious happening around me on the highway?  Was the back end of my car suddenly amusing?  I don't have any bumper stickers on my car nor do I have a vanity license plate, so there was nothing funny for the grinning person to read.  I was wearing sunglasses, so the person couldn't seem me continuing to glance in my rear view mirror to check on them.  But every time I did, they were still grinning.  Their FACE WASN'T MOVING.  AT ALL.  Just frozen in that psychotic, unblinking, perma-grin, with several white teeth showing.  For the next quarter of a mile in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

And all I could think was, This is what happens when you tell women to smile all the time!  We get psychopaths following us down the highway with a facial expression that would give Jared Leto a run for his money.
He's so much prettier when he smiles!
Thing #2
Not ten minutes later during the same commute, I was nearly killed!  Well, if not killed, then nearly severely injured!

I was in the exit lane to go from one interstate to the other, and traffic was backed up.  We were all at an almost complete stop, brake lights for as far as the eye could see.  And it wasn't a sudden "oh crap, everyone is stopping!" kinda deal.  We were pretty much on our brakes from the time we turned on our blinkers to get into that lane (those of us conscientious drivers who actually use our blinkers, that is).  So I'm sitting there, paying attention to the cars in front of me, and when I hear super loud tire squealing from behind.

I immediately glance out my side mirror, and I can see a burgundy car barreling toward me.  The driver who was immediately behind me pulled all the way on the shoulder (to the right), another driver was pulling toward the left, to get out of this maniac's way.  The maniac (a young woman, BTW) started to pull toward the left as she was squealing her brakes and narrowly avoided slamming into me -- me, who had nowhere else to go.  And then she had the nerve to still try to get into said exit lane.  I gestured broadly Please!  Go Ahead!  I didn't want to be anywhere near her.

Is it any wonder I continually look for jobs that would allow me to work from home?  Oh, except I don't have a home (see:  Disaster Destruction Displacement 2016).  More on that later...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Book Review: Poison or Protect

Poison or Protect (Delightfully Deadly, #1)Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let it be known that I don't often give five-star reviews. So for a novella to earn that from me,...well, that's kind of a big deal. But when I finished Gail Carriger's Poison or Protect I was satisfied, for lack of a better word. I couldn't think of something I'd want to change or rewrite or edit; there was nothing dangling in my head as "unfinished."

It is the mark of a good writer that s/he can make us feel affection for villains, or, more accurately, that s/he gives us rounded, fleshed out characters who are complicated and complex, rather than flat characters who can be described as "hero" or "villain" with no grey area in between*. And Carriger has just done just that with Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star (and extra points for always giving us fantastic character names!).

If you've read Carriger's "Finishing School" series, you will recognize Preshea as one of the "mean girls" of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
[Please note that you absolutely do not have to read those four books in order to read and enjoy this novella. Some of the winks and nods to the reader may be lost on you, but you won't even notice as they fly by.]
Telling (at least half of) this story from Preshea's point of view gives us a chance to understand her and her meanness just a bit more. Carriger doesn't try to change or rescue Preshea; she simply gives us insight to a complicated character. As Poison or Protect takes places a couple of decades after the Finishing School series, there is plenty of time for Carriger to fill in Preshea's backstory.

I also found it rather remarkable that, for a universe built on the existence of the supernatural (as that's where the Parasol Protectorate books start), there are only two -- count' em, TWO -- supernatural characters in this book**. And only briefly at that. (You'll recognize them both.) While some of the other characters refer, briefly and generally, to werewolves and vampires, they are not the focus; and the book does not suffer for it. I don't think that's a feat easily attained.

And while we're on the subject, the "steampunkiness" of Carriger's universe is also not such a focus in this novella. A couple of dirigibles here and there, and that's about it. Very little gadgetry, yet we do not notice that it's missing. It was only after the fact that I came to these two realizations.

So without the supernatural and without the steampunk, what are we left with? Dammit, Gail Garriger, you got me to read a romance novel(la)!! And I may or may not have enjoyed it. I may never forgive you for that.

Speaking of romance, Carriger manages to write some very tasteful (though no less sexy and/or erotic) sex scenes. I think I saw the word "cock" maybe once. I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to sex (or sex scenes), but there was nothing crude or vulgar about these. I appreciated that.

Last but not least: writing in Scottish dialect. I don't think I'll ever tire of some of these characters and their "dinna's" and "ken's." It's just sprinkled in there, even in their thoughts, and never forced in a way that feels like "I'M SCOTTISH. HERE I AM SPEAKING SCOTTISH AND DOING SCOTTISH THINGS."

So go, read, enjoy. Whether or not you do it whilst drinking tea and wearing a corset is up to you.

*See also Marissa Meyers' Fairest (Lunar Chronicles #3.5), or even just the first few chapters of Game of Thrones. When the POV switches, we suddenly find ourselves not sure whose side we're supposed to be on.
**I should say three, I think. There is Formerly Connie.
***Y'know what,...there is something slightly left unfinished
(click to read whole review with spoiler).

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Friday, July 8, 2016

White Privilege in Two Paragraphs

There are yard signs around the city which say, "We Must Stop Killing Each Other."  There is one on my sister-in-law's block.  And she was grieving the fact that her nine-year-old daughter (our niece, Little Red) is now able to read, which means that she will have to explain to Little Red what that sign means and why it's posted and what is going on with the state of the world.  I said, "Well, it's true [that we must stop killing each other]" to my Unit, who then expressed her desire (similar to her sister's) to keep Little Red as young and innocent as she can be, before she has to realize what a horrible place the world is.

I see one of those signs "We Must Stop Killing Each Other" every day when I drive home from work, and it dawned on me that for other children, other nine- and ten-year-olds, "We Must Stop Killing Each Other" is an everyday reality.  Other, non-white children have to be told on a daily basis why their friends and families are being shot and killed.  Other, non-white children have to be taught things like "Hands Up; Don't Shoot" and to always comply with persons of authority because at any moment they could be unjustly harassed, assaulted, and/or killed.  That is their everyday reality.  And the fact that Little Red's parents have the luxury of deciding when to tell her about this reality -- this "other" reality -- is white privilege.  Plain.  Lucky.  Stupid. Privilege.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Review: A Hundred Essays I Don't Have Time to Write

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater by Sarah Ruhl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You MUST read this book. If you are an actor, playwright, dramaturg, technician, director, producer, stage manager, and/or lover of theatre/storytelling of any kind, you need to allow Sarah Ruhl's brilliant essays into your life. There are only a hundred of them (with the longest being maybe three pages); you'd do well to find the time.

Ruhl's wit and wisdom are apparent in the very title, and they carry through her offerings. One of this book's best qualities is that these are a hundred essays she "doesn't have time to write" -- meaning, none of them are too long, and Ruhl isn't necessarily digging for truth or trying to unlock the earth's great mysteries. She asks a lot of questions, but does not force any answers. Ruhl tells some wonderful, touching, funny stories (some of which may or may not have brought me to tears whilst on the treadmill at the gym), but she's not didactic. She'll make you stop and think about storytelling and theatre and drama and communities and our need for play and social interaction. But she'll never make you feel like she's demanding that you think about these things.

I didn't necessarily agree with all of the points she brought up (her bit on subtext in dialogue, in particular, seemed counter to everything I've learned), but I appreciated the opportunity to see another viewpoint and to maybe -- just maybe -- approach some of my own work differently.

I borrowed this book from the library, but that didn't stop me from highlighting a passage in nearly every essay, sometimes two! (On my Kindle, people, don't freak out.) I'm still going to have to buy it so I can go back and read those gems whenever I like.

Like I said, you MUST READ THIS BOOK. This book is a necessary tool of the craft, right up there with Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The two shall be bosom companions on my bookshelf.

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