Saturday, April 19, 2014

Horror Stories of a Book Addict: I Almost Lost a Book

So last night, around 2 AM, I was putting this bad boy back on my shelf:

And I was still on an assassin-y, magic-y, sneaky-sneak, scheme-y high (<- my official recommendation for that book, and all books by Leah Cypess) when I noticed that something was missing.

Specifically, my copy of Mistwood, which Leah Cypess had signed and doodled unicorns on for me.

Obviously, this was a serious situation, of twitter-worthy proportions.

It was not on my favorites bookshelf. It was not on my secondary, meh/school bookshelf. It was not in any of the assorted paper stacks shoved into corners of my room. I refrained from checking the rest of the house because it was 2 AM. But the more I looked, the more I became very afraid.

Then I realized that I was also missing my signed bookmarks, which may or may not have been left in the same place, but what if they had been thrown out? What if I had lost them forever? My only links to the lovely authors who never venture into the rural midwest?

Worse, I had a very hazy-yet-firm memory of lending Mistwood to someone at school, long, long ago. And I could not remember if I had ever gotten it back.

I got into bed, but worst-case scenarios kept flickering through my mind. Awful mental conversations with the possible pilferer of my book.

"Oh, that was yours? I gave it away."
"I tossed it out."
"My dog got to it and chewed it up. Sorry."

I didn't even know if the most likely candidate had a dog, but I still worried about it, for at least half an hour, probably more.

In the morning, the first thing I did was check the hallway shelf. Not there.

Checked my little brother's shelf. It didn't even have many books on it, for heaven's sake, and I vowed to appropriate it as soon as possible.

Then I spotted my little brother's bedside table. With some papers covering it. A slim book corner sticking out, but not the book.

Heart pounding, daring to hope, I lifted the papers--

--and found Mistwood safe and unharmed in all its unicorn-doodled glory, ready to retake its place on my shelf.

Apparently Lil Bro and Mom read it a long time ago and never put it back in my room.

The crisis is now over, except for one thing.

I still can't find my signed bookmarks.

Ever lost a book? What's sent you into panic mode? Also, hey, read Mistwood / Nightspell / Deathsworn, because they're good.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Critiquing and enjoying stuff - PART 2

I talked last week about how I like to think analytically about things that I watch. I mentioned how I think it's important to be aware of potential problems, even in things we like.

Thinking about it more, I realized that there was another side to the issue. Besides the risk of being oblivious to problems in fiction, there's the risk of completely rejecting everything you find a problem in.

I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian home, homeschooled until 5th grade. My dad's a pastor. My mom hates Halloween.

My siblings and I weren't allowed to watch Power Rangers or Pokemon growing up. It took me years to see the second half of Anastasia because the first time we watched it, Mom made us turn it off when some green demon bat things attacked a train.

It's not like what we watched was really, super restricted. We didn't grow up in a bubble watching nothing but Dragon Tales and Zoom (although those were staples in our day-to-day TV-viewing, especially back when PBS was our only access to kids shows). We even used to watch some of Mom's movies with her, which were probably more questionable for children. Mom, if you're reading this, I hold no grudges over anything that we were or were not allowed to watch.

That said, I did grow up aware of certain questions about what is and is not suitable to watch, read, or otherwise take in, especially for children.

As a kid, I read above my age level. I read some things that in all honesty, my parents would not have approved of. And the world did not end, I did not become a serial killer...although perhaps even worse, I became a writer.

Now that I'm in college, nearly two decades old, I've branched out even more. Over break, me and my sister exchanged TV recommendations--Hannibal (mine) and Breaking Bad (hers)--while Mom and Dad listened uncertainly from the front seat of the car, probably wondering when their kids started watching shows about cannibals and meth dealers.

One of the greatest expressions of love I have ever experienced is that Dad DVRed Hannibal for me, even though he might not approve of me watching it.

All this to say that there are redeemable, enjoyable aspects to a lot of books, movies, etc. that may not be considered appropriate for all audiences. If you reject everything that gets the slightest bit dark, or the slightest bit morally ambiguous, you can't grow, or challenge yourself. You lose the opportunity to explore boundaries, puzzle through what-if scenarios, and test how you really think about the world.

You also run the risk of cutting yourself off from issues that people deal with in real life every day.

And if you want to do that, fine. That's your issue. It's your choice what you want to take in. Just so long as you don't try to make that choice for other people.

I am a sheltered pastor's kid who has lived a freaking good, safe, easy life up to this point, and I'm writing this blog post with the most casual, rambling train of thought imaginable. That's part of why I don't want to cut myself off from the tough stuff: so I don't forget about issues that I don't have to deal with every day, but other people do.

Mark O' Brien blogged about book-banning and similar issues recently, more awesomely and powerfully than I ever could, so go read that.

Watch what you want. Read what you want. But before you completely write something off completely, think about why it may be worth watching. At least think about why you feel strongly enough to close the book or turn off the TV.

Don't isolate yourself from the world's problems, and for god's sake don't try to isolate other people. Chances are, they'll encounter those problems someday anyway.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Casual critique and simply enjoying stuff

My friend Kaitlyn and I could totally be on American Idol.

As judges.

As I speak, she is planning to drag me from my hermit-friendly dorm room tonight to go and watch the second round of a battle-of-the-bands type thing between my college and our rival school.

When we go, we will criticize the acts mercilessly. We will also nod in judicious approval, use nuanced eyebrow movements to express misgivings, and clutch each other's arms in excitement when, say, somebody busts out our favorite song or really nails whatever they chose to perform.

This is a common habit of ours, not just at musical contests but also at plays, dance shows, and whatever series we're marathoning from the comfort of our dorm rooms.

We like to criticize things. Or at the very least, we like to think analytically about whatever it is we're watching. We like to pick out the pros and cons of things, and sound out our opinions by comparing each other's reactions.

This is fun to do with Kaitlyn for two reasons:

1. She is the master of unrestrained reactions. Not so much in public, but in private she will scream at the top of her lungs whenever she is pleased / upset / surprised / embarrassed on a character's behalf. We have been shushed numerous times, and people can hear her wails all the way down the hall.

2. Some people respond to my usual analysis by saying, "Can't you just enjoy it without picking every little thing apart?" Kaitlyn understands that I do enjoy things, even while I'm figuring out what I did and did not like.

I can sometimes shut off the critical part of my brain and just watch things indiscriminately (especially with manga and anime) but the act of critique itself is enjoyable and has a few added benefits, especially in terms of analyzing movies and fiction.

First, it helps me figure out what I want to do in my writing, by thinking about what others have done well. Even just by noticing the places where I just purely enjoyed something, it gives me a hint of what to try for in my own craft.

Second, it helps me pinpoint problematic issues that I want to avoid. For example, last night I got into a discussion with my roommate about the White Savior trope. She had never heard of it, never really thought about it, but it's a legitimate concern I want to keep in mind while plotting novels.

There are definitely things that I just like, regardless of problems they may have. But I think there's a big difference between enjoying things with the knowledge that they have issues and enjoying things while being completely oblivious to certain things that are not ok.

Not that I think every act at the contest tonight is going to perpetuate stereotypes and promote problematic values, or anything like that. But I like flexing my analytical muscles.

I like being able to put into words exactly why I like something.

And exactly why I don't.

That said, I'm a very critical person, and you are more than free to disagree. What's your philosophy on watching things?