Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sex, Teens, Drugs, and Literature (Part I of III)

The Impetus

I have often heard the argument that teen books and cross-over children's books, I'm thinking of the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series as examples, might have their failings as literature, but they get people - particularly young people, reading. Don't worry, I'm not setting up a "straw-man" to knock down. I accept that argument, having worked in a bookstore for the releases of the last books in both series, there is no escaping that these books were phenomena and got a wide range of people reading books who were normally not inclined to do so.

Anecdotally, Mary's father read the Twilight series after seeing the first movie and liked them tremendously. Mary's mother is quite the voracious reader, but her father had historically preferred to be a movie buff. I'm not sure that he is going for the Guinness world record for most movies viewed, but he's probably well on his way. However, like I said, he read that Twilight series, then moved on to the Southern Vampire series, and from there started reading Nicholas Sparks books. Now, that is not my taste in literature (Mary claims he has grown into a teenage girl), but I would hasten to point out that not only did he read the Twilight series, but that was his "gateway drug" into other books as well. This from a man that Mary's mother claims she had not seen read a book since before Mary was born. Now they have evenings when they do not turn on the TV and just read together. Adorable.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one.

A companion of mine, who still works in the children's department at the bookstore, has argued that teen books are not necessarily beneficial to young people who were already inclined (or as the case with parents around here, required) to read. I don't want to put words in his mouth and I am paraphrasing, but as I understood it, his argument was: in our youths, the teen book genre was quite small and the natural progression from young readers books was usually into the "genres" section - SciFi, Fantasy, Mysteries, etc. (Back in the day, "Westerns," which these days seems to consist entirely of Louis L'Amour novels) - and not into teen novels. Thus, in order to read more adult-oriented literature instead of stories about talking mice or a disfigured kid during the U.S. War of Independence, we had to read books that were also written for adults. As Mary has pointed out, there were teen books that were, then as many are now, an introduction to sleazy romance novels (less graphic books about teen girls falling in love, being betrayed by their friends and god knows what else, probably menstruating or something. Girls are gross). My antagonist's argument was that the books that he and I read as teenagers, case in point David Eddings, were far better written and, through their more complicated narrative and plot structures, encouraged greater development of complex thought processes and reading comprehension.

I disagreed, but I thought I would look into it. Long story, short: I think I was wrong. The long story is below (and above since there will be subsequent posts) if you want to read it, but I thought the above was interesting to consider, even if you couldn't care less about my "investigations" (it's an abuse of the word to claim that my rudimentary research is that).

Methods and Madness

I believe that I should start by clarifying that this argument primarily concerns young people who would already be reading. As I said above, that some of these books are cultural phenomena is fantastic and they do, doubtlessly in my opinion, seduce some people into reading who either culturally, socially, or dispositionally would not have otherwise. In extreme cases, as with Mary's father, it can create habitual readers out of those who had never been or fall off from the practice. My bias is such that I consider this to be an unqualified "good thing," even if I can cite little evidence to benefits.

So, my studies in this case were the aforementioned series by J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and David Eddings. I believe I will also include J.R.R. Tolkien's series The Lord of the Rings and it's prequel, The Hobbit.

These are an interesting and heavily-biased sample. Tolkien, in particular, stands out as an unfair standard by which to judge teen novels. However, it could also be considered unfair to judge Mr. Edding's books against Ms. Rowling's or Ms. Meyer's series; there have been no movies made of the Belgariad or Elenium nor have they convinced an entire generation of teen girls that stalking is romantic or middle-aged women that it is perfectly acceptable to lust after teenaged boys. Moreover, do I make the claim that the Twilight series is representative of all teen books and considering their wider appeal and impact in society, shouldn't other teen books be used? Why Harry Potter, since that series is housed under "Young Reader?" Tolkien and Eddings are both fantasy writers - why not include Frank Herbert's Dune, Lilian Braun mysteries, or a western series? The It Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and other teen romance books are consistent sellers; should they not be used?

Jesus, this is a blog, people; why are you being so demanding?

1) I do not make the claim that Twilight is representative of the teen genre, merely it's most popular selection. As the most popular selection, I am considering it an archtype - the epitome of a teen novel. That is flawed reasoning, but it will suffice for now.

2) The Harry Potter series is also being considered for its popularity, but I would also argue that as the books progress and the main characters become older, the content changes dramatically toward more mature readers. I didn't go back through the books for empirical evidence, but I would point out that the first three Harry Potter movies are housed in "Children's," while the subsequent films are in "Action/Adventure" at the bookstore where I worked. Also, deeply-flawed reasoning, I am aware, but enough to progress in my discussion.

3) Alright. Stop listing titles. There are literally hundreds of books that I could consider. By-and-large, Tolkien and Eddings are superior to much of the competition in their genre, such as the Dungeons & Dragons or Dragonlance books. However, when my points become clear later, it is plainly evident that Terry Brooks or, even more so, Robert Jordan, would make much stronger examples. Eddings, however, I argue is a more accurate representation of the fantasy genre - easily readable, but not so simplistic or formulaic as the books based on RPGs. Tolkien is being used because of his staying power - his work too could be considered an archtype of his genre.

4) Because those books are about rich, semi-retarded, unreflective, unrepentant tramps and the teenaged boys who bang them. They are a plague on our society and have no place in polite discussion.
Just kidding, I'll talk about them briefly, but don't take much interest in them.

5) Why aren't you convinced? Oh, I see. Fine, so the list is heavily biased by what I have read and to what I have easy access. In the past year or so, I have either read or re-read the Twilight saga, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the David Eddings books. I don't read much in the way of SciFi or other genres and my teen reading is limited as well, including the smutty teen novels of which I have read one and one-half. Yeah, it's biased. Did you want to have this discussion or not? Fine, this "lecture/argument/paper" since you don't really get to participate. Stop reading or keeping going and hush up. You guys are jerks.

You're still here? Well too bad, this has gone on for too long already and even fewer people read epic blog posts than read my normal blog posts. More later.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No, rats aren't trapped this easily. . .

The Good
The good news is that resetting my wireless router took less time than it usually does. A wiser, or more organized, man would write down the correct settings for the router so that he didn't have to figure it out every time he moved. Clearly, I am not that man. But this time, I remembered a few things and only had to fiddle with a couple settings before I got it right. So, I have the internet drifting aimlessly through my new apartment, most likely on a sea of boxes.

The Bad
The bad news is that I still have the keys to the Bauer apartment and it is costing me several hundred dollars more to leave than I had expected. Because of the delightful kittens, we had to have the have the carpet professionally cleaned and the apartment de-flea and ticked. Not that it had fleas and ticks in the first place. I think landlords and the exterminators are in cahoots; it's quite a racket they have going there. Lord only knows what is next, I just get the impression that I am trapped. I also get the impression that I am going to have to fight tooth-and-nail for that security deposit.

The. . . Well, It's Not Ugly
MaisOui and I are moved into the new apartment. At least insofar as our stuff is here. Many thanks and various other expressions of gratitude to my co-blogger from the soccer site, his brother, and MKB's brother for their help in moving everything (Thanks to Brendar as well, for helping me move 1000+ lbs of books the day before the big move and an hour before he was going on what may have been a date). Particular thanks to "BStheTruth" for once again helping us over the course of several days. I think considering the amount of help he has given us, when he decides to move, we have to build his apartment from the ground up for him. Actually, that would be punishment for him; I am not a carpenter nor very Jesusy at all. Or maybe I am, since Jesus had to go out and find another line of work too. Point is, we got everything out of the old apartment and into the new one in less than 24 hours (old TV not withstanding), but without all their assistance, the new apartment remains in disarray. Actually, as Kate pointed out, we have yet to attempt our new routes home from work because every time we leave work, we have been going to the Bauer apartment every night to clean and the like.
I rather like this new apartment's layout. Pictures will follow, once the apartment is better constructed.

The 'Fraidy Cats
The kittens don't mind the boxes at all. They go spelunking through them all the time and seem delighted that they have plenty of obstacles on top of which to climb.
They did mind the move, however. They were quite grumpy when things started to disappear from the apartment, but only realized the full scope of their nightmare when my Lady put them into their carriers. I didn't ride in the car with them and only saw them as she carried them out. Henry was whining plaintively like the little sissy that he is; Emma was backed up as far as she could inside the case and glared at everyone and everything with baleful eyes. Once inside the apartment, Henry proceeded to hide in the closet for 6 hours, while Emma spent her first three behind the mattress propped against the wall. She came out and started exploring though; Henry did not. My darling girlfriend eventually dragged him out and placed him in his cat tower. . . where he remained for another 4 hours before eventually joining us once the bedroom was more put together. What a worthless ball of fuzz.
Mary Kate, in her infinite wisdom, decided to reward him with a drinking bowl water fountain. We haven't seen him drink from it, but he sticks his paws in it and leaves tracks all over the new floor just fine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Packing (The MK & T Library Project)

So, Mary and I are moving again. I've noticed that I believe blogging > packing, but there has been some packing as well. We don't even get to see the actual apartment that we are moving into until Friday (we've seen a similar one, but ours is going to have new cabinets, appliances, lighting fixtures, and possibly lasers. I'm really hoping for the lasers), but Mary and I have already filled 50+ boxes that the good people at Barnes and Noble were kind enough to give us. I say the "good people" because a certain manager got a little snippy with me for being in the back of the store when I am no longer employed there. However, the Barnes and Noble boxes are an absolute necessity because of the huge volume (hereinafter referred to as "MK & T Library Project") of books that we had to box. Putting books in Safeway boxes or something is how Ragnarok begins.

The MK&T Library Project
So, Kate and my library was already organized; split first into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction section was mostly alphabetized by author, although there was a separate section at the beginning for surveys and a section at the end for mythology. The non-fiction was divided by category (and sub-category in the international relations section) and then alphabetized by author. Graphic novels have their own bookcase and organization scheme. That's the sort of organization that makes Mary's brain croon with joy and I'm not particularly adverse to it either.
Unfortunately, it was not sufficient for Mary's neuroses, so as we packed the books into the boxes (without significantly altering their order), Mary cataloged the ISB numbers and numbered the boxes so we know exactly which book is in which boxes. She then uploaded the ISBNs into GoogleBooks (looking up and adding any of the books whose ISB numbers didn't come up). So now our entire library is now enshrined on Kate's GoogleBooks page under "The MK&T Library Project" (Give or take; I have purchased three books since we finished packing books and they have not yet made it into the system).
I know what you're thinking, "surely that was sufficient for Mary's uniquely adorable brand of crazy." Sadly, no. Mary, disappointed with the lack organizational abilities, wrote GoogleBooks a nasty letter (she uses Google products for everything so she assumes any shortcomings are intentional personal affrontery) and signed up for GoodReads, which allows her to organize her library and to import entire spreadsheets, rather than the Notepad documents that she was keeping for GoogleBooks. If you sign up for GoodReads, you can see our library there as well, although I have no entered the books into my account, so once again, you'll have to rely upon Mary for a full list.

I should note that the list on the MK&T Library Project is imprecise - Mary and I have several older editions of books that did not appear in GoogleBooks, including but not limited to, Kate's first edition Willa Cather books. These titles were entered under alternate editions, matching as closely as possible to the publication date as possible. Surprisingly, this imprecision bothers me more than it does Mary. Of course, through this entire entry, I have neglected to mention that I started to make a spreadsheet as many as 5 years ago with the ISBNs of my books (although I never completed it) and technically I may have been the one to propose finally cataloging the entire library as we packed it and Mary just ran with it. . . But, no, Mary is the crazy one.

Me: Why can I only see the first ten books of the MK & T Library Project on googlebooks?*
Mary: Because GoogleBooks is weird and I don't like it.

*You can very gradually scroll through the books on Mary's main profile page at the bottom, but if you click the link, you can only see the last ten books or so that we entered.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Inescapable March toward Matrimonial Bliss

I'm am not engaged. No one get excited. Breathe, Mary, breathe. There have been so many weddings in the past few years and the next few years appear to offer no respite.

Two of Mary's friends are getting married this weekend. It is, naturally, a whole affair. Last night was the rehearsal dinner, followed by a bonfire. I don't object to the bonfire; I played a large role in building and maintaining the fire. Today is the actual wedding. Mary objects to the wedding. Not that she doesn't want her friends to be married. Rather, she is the Best Man and has to read a poem during the ceremony and give a speech at the reception. Public speaking, it appears, is where her objections lie. Tomorrow, there is a breakfast - depending upon the time and how much I drink tonight, I might have some reservations about that in the morning.

Point is, it's a three day affair. Now, I think weddings are somewhat strange. You take a ceremony that is a very personal bonding between yourself and the person from whom you care most in the world, and invite everyone and their uncle to a party that you are throwing in your honor. They get you gifts, but you or your family pays for it. That's a little self-indulgent and weird. Mary doesn't like the fact that they are multiple day affairs. I can sort of understand that as a natural evolution. Back in the day, after the bride and groom were married, they could finally engage in certain matrimonial delights that had, until that point, been prohibited and they were actually anxious to get a little privacy. Obviously, I am talking about playing with the stand-mixer and other wedding presents. But, as our society has progressed and couples have begun living together previous to marriage, thus they have already had a great deal of experience with matters that were previously consigned to married class alone. I mean, most people have used their stand-mixer many times by the time the get married and have used it to make meals for more than a single person - heck sometimes, people get married after using their stand-mixer for several people simultaneously. I digress. Now, the bride and groom feel a need to make the experience more worthwhile to visiting friends and relatives.

The weddings are, of course, theme-ed to a greater or lesser extent, if only colored by the habits of the bride and groom and their social circle. This wedding has a hippie vibe going on. There was the bonfire, which included a relative with a guitar and harmonica (and yes, one of those neck-brace things so that you can play the harmonica and guitar at the same time), and some nature walks and possibly some rock-climbing. This wedding is a union between a Greek and an Italian and that a Greco-Roman wedding didn't become a giant toga party, I feel, is somewhat of a missed opportunity. One of the other guests pointed out that the modern day Italians aren't really the descendants of the Romans, but why nit-pick to avoid a Bacchanalian Orgy?

My brother is doing the multi-day wedding affair in New Orleans in about a year. I don't mind the way he has his organized, with the wedding ceremony being a more private affair and the BBQ being the focal point of guest activities. Though I'm told that I'll be wearing a kilt now. . . someone needs to keep me better apprised of these details.

However, if you guys are all getting married to throw big parties, let me inform you that Kate and I throw several parties a year and have yet to shackle ourselves with a legal agreement (not to mention the religious one, if you're concerned about that sort of thing). Perhaps there is still that fear that the other party may one seize an opportunity to escape and a wedding, hopefully, cements the ties. However, I would recommend never losing that fear of losing the other person, it makes missing that football match seem more reasonable and surprising her with flowers on Friday night more appropriate.

So I guess my view on weddings is: Live in Fear.