NaBloPoMo 2021 is in the Books

Thanks for sticking with me through another NaBloPoMo. I always feel like November is a long month when it comes to writing posts, but a short month when it comes to getting all of the day-to-day things accomplished. I’m pretty sure a whole week just vanished. I wasn’t able to post every day of the month, but I decided to just be okay with it.

My stats for the month:

Top 3 Most Popular Posts from NaBloPoMo 2021: 50 Years Later: More Books That Left a Mark, Breaking the Streak, Short Story Success

Total Number of Days Posted: 24

Words Written: 7,832 (not including this post)

New Followers Gained: 9

This month started with a broken toe (ouch!) but ended with a vacation to Puerto Vallarta (yay!). I’d say things are moving in a positive direction! Next up is December, and there’s always a lot to look forward to: putting up decorations, baking cookies, and seeing family. I hope you have a healthy holiday season. Let’s meet up again next November!

Comics Straight to Your Inbox

Today, I’m bringing you a reading recommendation that isn’t a book. It’s The Nib – “a daily publication devoted to publishing and promoting political and non-fiction comics.” This includes “journalism, essays, memoir and satire about what is going down in the world, all in comics form, the best medium. It was founded in 2013.”

I like The Nib because it’s nice getting something in my inbox that isn’t spam! Oh, and because I really like graphic novels! These aren’t as long as a book, of course, but getting your political news through comics is much more appealing.

The Nib has a great selection of authors who provide lots of different perspectives and art styles. The lengthy list even includes some of my favorite artists like Gemma Correll, Lucy Knisley, and Molly Brooks. The works range from single panel comics, to comic strips, to chapter-length spreads.

I was so impressed with the quality of the work that I purchased the Pandemic issue of The Nib Magazine. It’s a collection of comics all related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought it would be interesting to remember what we thought when the pandemic was fresh and new. I thought it would be a memento of a time we’d forget about…but now I see that COVID is here to stay…

So, if you’ve been on the lookout for a new way to ingest comics or the news, I recommend The Nib!

Faraway Lands, Vol. 4

For yet another year, we stayed close to home (well, my daughter and I did anyway – my husband has traveled quite a lot for work this fall). But this weekend, we traveled for the first time as a family to Puerto Vallarta. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the airport experience in a COVID-world, but it went smoothly. And you know what I learned? Grown-ups can follow the rules AND not even complain about them! Everyone in the airport and on the airplane was masked (except when eating/drinking and those under age two). It was sort of amazing. While it isn’t particularly fun to spend 12 hours with a mask on, it CAN be done. When we deplaned in Mexico, we walked through a cool temperature check glass tunnel and our temperatures were taken again before getting onto the resort property. All of the employees are masked. I think seeing other people masked helps everyone follow the rules. As we head into a season with another COVID variant, it’s nice to see that people are capable of taking precautions.

While this trip marks my first real vacation since November of 2019 (I finally got to use the suitcase I got for Christmas in 2019!) books transported me to lots of different places.

From my home in Wisconsin, I traveled:

– To the desert planet Arrakis, where the Atriedes family is sent to rule and fill quotas of “spice” in Dune

⁃ To the Dominican Republic where, following a tragic plane crash, a teen learns her father had a second family in New York City in Clap When You Land

⁃ To a magical school full of terrifying creatures who are constantly trying to eat the students and there is absolutely no adult supervision in A Deadly Education

⁃ To the Japanese Internment camps of WWII in Displacement

⁃ To a retirement community where one of its residents is trying to keep a low profile but stumbles into criminal activity in Before She Was Helen

⁃ To WWII Holland – from a watch shop, to jail, to concentration camps – with Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place

⁃ From training to space in Astronauts: Women in the Final Frontier

⁃ On tour for a pop star in The Backups: A Summer of Stardom

⁃ To an Ojibwe reservation to track down who is responsible for a recent string of crimes in Firekeeper’s Daughter

⁃ To a beloved, small-town theme park in Hot Dog Girl

⁃ Through an immersive online quest in Ready Player Two

⁃ On a train ride starting in New York City in 1929 to the Midwest and the depression, to Maine in 2011 in Orphan Train

⁃ On a tense mission through space with Sanity and Tallulah in Shortcuts

⁃ To a newly connected land in the Graceling Realm where animals can speak to people in their minds in Winterkeep

⁃ To chilly Minnesota, as a young Sudanese refugee navigates life in America in Home of the Brave

– To a brief stop in a kingdom where spindles are being opened, unleashing evil into the world in Realm Breaker

Through both time and space (and even outer space!), books have allowed me to safely experience worlds different from my own.

Where have books taken you this year?

Faraway Lands, Vol. 1; Faraway Lands, Vol. 2; Faraway Lands, Vol. 3

Now it’s your turn!

I drew boots for myself and boots for my daughter, and now it’s your turn! Here’s a page with two blank boot sketches that you can print, design, and color for yourself. Click on the oval “Download” button to view, download, or print the page.

How to Use this Document:

  1. After downloading, open the file and print out a copy
  2. Find pictures of book covers online for inspiration
  3. Draw your design in pencil
  4. Go over all lines (including those already on the boot) with a black pen
  5. When the ink is dry, erase pencil lines
  6. Color – I love using colored pencils
  7. Snap a picture with your phone
  8. Share it with someone! 

Ramblings on Science Fiction

Way back in May, I saved an article called “Has science fiction become too serious?” Author Simon Ings reports on the European Media Art Festival in Germany, which showcases the best upcoming short films. This year, Ing writes, “saw science fiction swallow the festival whole, as though the genre was becoming not just a valid way to talk about the present, but the only way.” While science fiction is a big genre which can cover a lot of different styles, the films seemed to be less about possibility and more dystopian and grim. Perhaps science fiction “has ceased to be a playground and has become instead a deadly serious way of explaining our world.” 

The article may have been focused on films at a festival, but I wonder if the “seriousness” has found its way into sci-fi books as well. Climate disasters, end times, a need to abandon the planet, oppressive governments, extreme classism, over-reliance on escapism technology, rogue A.I., alien invasions – it’s heavy stuff. But has the genre changed, or has that always been the case? The classics – Dune, 1984, Brave New World, The Time Machine, The Martian Chronicles, and Ender’s Game – are heavy too. The authors used science fiction to comment on problems in politics and society. 

When we have a longer car ride, my husband and I enjoy listening to a podcast called Exponential Wisdom, hosted by Peter Diamandis and Dan Sullivan. They discuss the exciting possibilities that technology and entrepreneurs are bringing to the table – covering everything from living a longer and healthier life, how going virtual can level the playing field, to having an abundance mindset, to the opportunities of the commercial space industry, and how to utilize A.I. technology. My husband enjoys the podcast because he likes the technological breakthroughs and hearing about all the smart things people are doing. But every time we listen to a podcast, I end up pausing the episode and saying something like, “Yes, but I read this book where the government used that technology and it led to this terrible thing happening!” Science fiction always seems to take possibilities to the extreme. It makes me wonder what Diamandis and Sullivan have to say about that – they never seem to discuss or dwell on the negatives. Aren’t there a lot of complications that come with technology and innovation? A lot of ways it can be exploited either for monetary or personal gain? 

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read Andy Weir’s latest sci-fi novel, Project Hail Mary, and was blown away by how much FUN it was to read! Author of The Martian (another one of my favorite books), Weir creates exciting space adventures. The amount of details and terminology and math and science has me fully believing in the story. Whether the science and math is accurate, I have no idea! But it helps make the situations more plausible. 

In Project Hail Mary, high school science teacher Ryland Grace awakens after a long sleep to find himself the sole survivor on a last-ditch effort to save humanity. He’s onboard a spacecraft funded by every government on the planet and everyone is counting on him – but he can’t even remember his own name or what he’s supposed to do. Ryland is tested over and over again. This is a survival story amped up.   

I’m going to leave the blurb vague because I don’t want to give any spoilers away. But, this book was so hopeful – despite the looming threat of human extinction! I loved it.  

Do you read science fiction? Do you find it too serious and bleak? Or optimistic and inspiring?

Book vs. Film: Dune

The Book:

Last fall, I saw the trailer for the latest Dune film, starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, and I knew I was ready to finally tackle the book. I was expecting an Ender’s Game meets Star Wars epic space fantasy. But that’s not quite what the book is. It’s much more like Lord of the Rings with tons of characters and exposition.

The beginning (half) of the book is excruciatingly slow. The verbose language, the made-up technologies and titles, and the world-building makes reading clunky and dense. It takes a long time for the book to become fun or exciting. The book follows the classic Hero’s Journey plot line, where Paul is clearly a Chosen One, though he denies it for a majority of the book.

The most interesting part of the story to me was surviving on a harsh, desert planet. I liked hearing about the different survival techniques and technological solutions, and how the culture had adapted to the land. I wish we had gotten to this part sooner. It would have made sense, seeing as we knew from the beginning that there was going to be an assassination. We even knew who was going to commit the murder and the reasons why. I kept thinking, “Okay, it’s finally going to happen in this chapter,” but no, just more exposition.

I’m interested to see how the film will condense the book and make it more engaging for audiences. I’m assuming the time constraint will help pick up the pacing considerably. I’m not in any hurry to pick up the next book of the series, and can’t fathom reading the many sequels and spinoffs and prequels related to the Dune universe. For now, I’m just proud that I managed to finish this 1965 sci-fi classic.

The Film:

I watched the film on HBO Max, from the comfort of my couch. I haven’t been to a movie theater since before the pandemic. I’m sure the movie would be even more impressive on a big screen with theater sound. My husband hasn’t read the book, so I often had to explain or fill in missing details. Without reading the book, I’m not really sure whether the film makes sense. Is the entire plot there? One part that was missing for me was the set-up for the assassination. In the book, it’s very clear who is going to commit the murder and why. The other characters know it’s going to happen, too, even though they don’t know the exact details. It feels like the audience has to infer a lot. 

One positive is that everything feels bigger in the film, including the tension. There was an ache in my chest building as the film progressed. This was lacking in the pages and pages of exposition in the book. The big attack scene is epic in scale and shows how horribly deadly a battle can be. Speaking of scale, the spacecraft shown throughout the film are massive and incredible. This glimpse of the future is what I love about sci-fi. 

While the tension helps to drive the pace of the movie, I was surprised at how little of the almost 800 page book made it into this film. There are a LOT of pages and action left to cover in the next film. My understanding is that the second film will cover the rest of Dune, and then a third film will take on the sequel, Dune Messiah. There’s also talk of a television series called Dune: The Sisterhood, which would focus on the Bene Gesserit, a powerful group of nun-like women that has secretly set a lot of the plan in motion. 

As I mentioned before, my favorite part of the book was reading about how the people adapted to survive on a harsh, desert planet. We only get to see a little bit of this in the movie. So in the film, I enjoyed watching the dynamic between Lady Jessica and her son, Paul. It was fascinating to see them use the voice and communicate through hand signals. But the best part of the movie has to be the character Duncan Idaho – played by Jason Momoa. In a cast of stellar, stand-out actors (seriously – have you read the cast list? Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgárd, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin), Jason Momoa still manages to steal the scene.

I think the Dune film upholds the character of the book, but because of time constraints, has to cut out a lot of nuance and subplots. Overall, I’m glad I watched the film and I will definitely watch the next film in the series. I still don’t think I’m going to read the second book though!  

Have you read or watched Dune? What did you think?

Reading Stack Recap

Just Finished: The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother) by David Levithan

I’m a fan of Levithan, so I was excited to see this middle grade title appear in OverDrive. A quick, enjoyable read imagining what it might be like if your brother returned from a Narnia-like magical land in current times. How would you explain it to people? Who would believe it? What would the fallout be? It seems like a simple book on the surface, but touches on themes of listening to others, trust, truth, and how stories change.   

Current Read: Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

I’ll be starting this book tonight and I’m so excited. David Yoon’s previous novel, Frankly in Love, was one of my favorite reads of 2020. I remember waking up my husband because I was laughing out loud while reading it in bed! It had great humor, but also touched on some big topics, too. I have high hopes for Yoon’s second novel.  

On Deck: Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, L. Fury  

I’ve posted about the March graphic novel series many times. The series wraps up with the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but that didn’t mean the fight for equality was over. Run continues to tell the story of John Lewis and the struggle for civil rights.

Suddenly Spindle is Everywhere

The day after I posted about Realm Breaker and how confused I was by the term “spindle” being used…on every page…in multiple forms…a bookish Instagram account I follow (@uppercaseya) happened to post about Sleeping Beauty retellings. Guess what word was in all of the book titles? That’s right.

Spindle!

Spindle’s End, The Bone Spindle, Spindle Fire, and simply Spindle. I just had to laugh. What was the coincidence? Now, this use of the word “spindle” makes sense to me because it’s tied to Sleeping Beauty, but I’m still not sure how Victoria Aveyard was using it in Realm Breaker. Some kind of portals to other worlds? Why this word??? (Side note, just googled “victoria aveyard spindle” to get to the bottom of this mystery and I learned that the original title for Realm Breaker was Spindle and Blade, then Spindleblade. She really likes the word!) 

Running into the Instagram book recommendations might be a case of “frequency illusion” or the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon,” in which after you notice something or learn something new, you see it more often. Like when you get a new car, and suddenly notice that everyone else has it, too. But, still. Suddenly “spindle” is everywhere!

Let me know if you come across the word “spindle” this week!

Truth and Justice

It’s been days since my last post, but don’t worry, I’m still here! The week just got away from me somehow. Too many big projects popped up and they took priority. Today’s post is going to be a little different: nothing about books or reading. But I want to post this here so I can look back and be reminded of how I felt at this time. 

I’m not sure what kind of national coverage this trial is getting (I wrote this piece a week ago – I can see from my Instagram feed this weekend that everyone knows about this case), but here in Wisconsin, the news is following the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The now 18-year-old gunman is on trial for homicide that occurred during protests in Kenosha in 2020. 

The trial makes my blood boil. There are days and days and days of trial involved. But why? 

  • He was in a place he didn’t need to be
  • With a weapon he shouldn’t have had
  • And killed two people and injured one other

Seems pretty open and shut to me. 

Then again, what do I know? Because he wasn’t even arrested that night. He turned himself in the following day. Turns out, police interacted with him during the protest, thanking him and walking alongside him while his hands were on an AR-15 rifle. 

How insulting to the victims and their families to have to watch as people debate whether Rittenhouse was in the right or not. Whether it was self-defense or not. Information about the victims has come out, questioning whether they were good people or whether they were protestors or looters. Frankly, that doesn’t matter one bit. That information was not available to Rittenhouse at the time. It didn’t factor into his decision to pull the trigger. 

The trial sets a dangerous precedent because a large portion of people seem to think that Rittenhouse was justified in his actions. He received praise online and even monetary contributions. What message does this send to other young men? Surely no BIPOC male would have gotten away with the same actions. White supremacy is rearing its ugly head once again. 

Lately, there is a strange push to give all sides equal standing, when not all sides or viewpoints or opinions are equal. We are seeing this “two side to every story” issue playing out all over the news. In the trial of Derek Chauvin, for example, there is video proof, eye witnesses, and testimony, yet the trial took 6 weeks and the final verdict was not a given (Derek Chauvin ultimately received 22 ½ years in prison, but the guilty verdict was a surprise to many). The debate shouldn’t have centered around whether Chauvin killed George Floyd or not – it’s clear that he did – the debate should have centered on justice. 

This also played out at the insurrection at the capitol on January 6th. We literally watched people breaking into the capitol on live television, and then people (including politicians who were there!) tried to tell us that it didn’t happen. Or that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Or that the actions were justified. Where are the consequences for these actions?

Rittenhouse killed two people. Those are the facts. They are not up for debate. What I feel can be up for debate is the consequence of these actions.

  • He was 17 at the time of the crime, so does that mean he should receive a lighter sentence?
  • What sort of rehabilitation should he receive? Is rehabilitation possible?
  • How does he go about making changes in his life so that he can become a better person and civilian? 
  • And furthermore, what changes need to be made (legally/culturally) so this doesn’t happen again?

(Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges, so absolutely none of these things will even be considered.)

By the way, the answer to all of these questions isn’t necessarily to send everyone to jail. We live in a nation that is 5% of the world’s population (isn’t that funny to think about? We think America is a big deal, but we are just a drop in the bucket!), yet we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. It should be no surprise that it’s disproportionately brown and black prisoners. And I live in Wisconsin, which consistently ranks high in incarceration rates (per Prisonpolicy.org Wisconsin incarcerates 663 people per 100,000 – compared to the UK with 129/100,00, Italy with 89/100,000 and Norway 54/100,000). So, prison isn’t always the answer. But there does need to be accountability. 

And recompense or restitution.

And sincere remorse and apology.

Compassion and empathy.

Measurable change and growth.  

I receive emails from a social justice based group in Wisconsin called WISDOM, and the message they sent on November 19th following the jury’s announcement that Rittenhouse was found not guilty stated: 

“This verdict is one more demonstration that our criminal legal system is broken.  A young white man was just exonerated for actions we all know would have been punished severely if he had been African-American or Native American.  Unfortunately, in our state and country, justice is not blind.

This verdict has also demonstrated how bankrupt our system of “justice” has become. 

In WISDOM, we believe that far fewer people should be in prison.  And, people should be incarcerated for much less time than is the case now, especially for people of color and people without money or wealthy backers.  People grow and change, even after they have done very bad things.  And locking them in cages does not help that process – many people grow emotionally and spiritually while incarcerated despite the system, not because of it.

This case demonstrates that we are lacking as a society in imagination.  People need to be held accountable.  But we need to find other ways to do that, other than just locking them away.  We need to find ways to keep our communities safe from gun-toting extremists and others who show no respect for human life.”

As we all continue to process and contemplate what the Rittenhouse ruling means for the future, what ultimately keeps popping up in my head is a quote by philosopher/activist Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”