Between the Lines Book Club: At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

between the lines book club logoOur next book club meeting will be on July 22, 2017. I’ll be out of town but our wonderful librarian, Kerri, will be facilitiating. The discussion is at 10:30AM at Arden Dimick Library.

At the Edge of the Orchard takes place in 1838 and 1853. It tells the story of a troubled family who is visited by Johnny Appleseed. The first section of the book takes place in Ohio, while the second is about Gold Rush California.

Want to know more? Check back here on Fridays! In the meantime, here’s a short review from Kirkus:

Spanning 15 years and a journey from the Black Swamp of northeastern Ohio to California’s redwood forests, Chevalier’s (The Last Runaway, 2013, etc.) latest draws readers into the simple highs and the frequent lows of 19th-century pioneer life.

When it comes to apples, James Goodenough “craved them more than whiskey or tobacco or coffee or sex.” His supplier of seeds and saplings, John Chapman (the real-life Johnny Appleseed) provides trees, applejack, and life-saving wisdom for the Goodenough family. After nine years (and five deceased children) in the Black Swamp, John and his wife, Sadie, are at odds, he preferring to grow sweet apples, or “eaters,” she preferring to grow sour apples, or “spitters,” that can be made into cider and applejack. Sadie’s mean streak and taste for alcohol drive the family to a breaking point before the narrative skips ahead to their youngest son Robert’s solo journey across the West. The strongest part of the novel, which depicts the crackling rage and poignant struggle of the Goodenough’s swamp-orchard life, comes to an end too soon, and readers are catapulted onto the road with Robert before it’s made clear why he left home. Separated by a series of letters Robert writes home to his siblings, the Ohio and California portions of the novel seem almost to be two different books. The relief of Robert’s escape from a dysfunctional childhood is contrasted with his crushing loneliness and his longing for Goodenough apples that can’t be found outside the swamp.

Nonfictional details bring the novel authenticity, often at the expense of character development or narrative cohesion.

The Value of Rage

the-amazons-in-wonder-woman-are-purposefully-a-diverse-groupWhen I was a kid, my dad showed me a lot of books and movies that, in retrospect, I realized were incredibly misogynist. In these stories, women could be an emasculating force (or they were completely absent from the story). I have to hand it to him, though – he had great, if ambivalent, respect for tough women.

My dad hated Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest, but he also admired her icy control, which made her a truly worthy opponent. He hated Major Houlihan in the film version of M*A*S*H, but respected her skill as a nurse. On a more gentle note, The Sound of Music always made him cry – and he loved how Maria dealt with the naughty Von Trapp children by refusing to be angry with them. Of a character in International Velvet who responds to a naughty child with total calm, my Dad said, “She didn’t even flinch.” I don’t know that I’ve ever heard such profound admiration in his voice. The ability to not flinch was, in his mind, a woman’s greatest virtue.

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For a female character to be respected in my Dad’s world of fiction (and reality), the character must be tough, intelligent, competent, and willing to roll along with the fun. She must be impossible to offend and be sexually available without being too sexually available. I believe that to him the perfect woman was the nurse in M*A*S*H who responds to an outrageously sexist rant and request for steak with an unflappable “How do you like your steak cooked?”

Women could be smart, they could be strong, they could be competent, and they could be clever. What a woman could not be was openly angry. Major Houlihan’s great sin is that she is quick to anger and she expresses her anger. Nurse Ratched’s reign of terror is over the moment she raises her voice. A woman could be strong in my dad’s eyes, but she must also be accomodating.

The ability to be calm and accomodaing can only get a person so far. Being calm can help characters survive the status quo, and manipulate the status quo. But to change something like, say, sexual harassment in the military takes not only calm but rage. And women should rage when expected to exist at the convenience of men. Rage can be cathartic, motivating, and highly strategic. The rage my father could not tolerate when combined with the toughness he valued is deadly indeed.

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My Dad handed me Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov (creator of Susan Calvin, another calm woman). I read them avidly and moved on to Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin, N.K. Jemisin and Kelly Sue DeConnick – women who hone their rage into a sharp blade with which they wreak havoc. These women are perfectly capable of calm – after all, calm equals control, which equal effectiveness. But their calm is fuelled with a refusal to be accommodating.

In addition to instilling me with a love of science fiction, my dad instilled me with the idea that women could be as strong as any man. But it took other creators and fictional characters to show me that women could not only survive their circumstances but change them. It took Sarah Connor saying, “You’re terminated, Fucker,” and Ripley saying “Get away from her you BITCH,” and the wives of Mad Max: Fury Road yelling, “Who killed the world?” I’m truly grateful for my dad for showing his admiration for tough women, but I wish he had shown me more women who used their toughness to fight rather than to survive.

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The exception that proves the rule – my dad LOVED Miss Piggy, who was never calm and usually successful!

Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews with Amor Towles

between the lines book club logoGreetings Book Club! We will be meeting in person tomorrow (June 24, 2017) at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30 AM to discuss Amor Towles’ book A Gentleman In Moscow. 

Towles has a wonderful author page, amortowles.com. Here you can find a great Q and A with him about A Gentleman in Moscow, as well as links to interviews and information about the Metropol Hotel.

My favorite thing on the website is this little video summarizing A Gentleman in Moscow. The beautiful animation! The typing author! the cat! It’s enchanting!

 

Guest Post: LGBT Representation in Cartoons

636032544866373456-2030120783_5-reason-to-watch-steven-universe-828300Once again someone has stolen my blog and written stuff in it. This is by guest poster Linden.

Hello universe, it’s me, Linden: daughter of the biologist and the writer, speaker at geeky panels since age eleven, and passionate cosplayer since age nine – the nerd princess, in the ink. It’s Pride Month! I don’t know about you guys but I’ve been shipping up a storm. I’ve been painting rainbows and screaming, “JUST KISS ALREADY” to sentient rocks from space. Which isn’t all that different from my normal routine but who cares! It’s Pride Month! Anyway, as I fangirled to myself at 3:00 AM I realized something. Cartoons have far more LGBTQ representation then comparable live action shows. As they say on a very popular YouTube channel, “lets talk about that.”

Let’s look at LGBTQ characters from cartoons and live action and see what shows portray

them as interesting and relatable characters that everyone is likely to love and appreciate. LGBTQ characters that are shown purely as a stereotype and are only around for one or two episodes won’t count. Any movie, musical or anime characters won’t count either because this is only for cartoons and live action TV shows. Fan-made ships don’t count no matter how popular; the character’s queerness has to be 100% cannon. If a character is very likely to be LGBTQ but it’s still up to speculation they will not make a list because what one person thinks is very likely another might think is insane to even suggest and it would not be fair. With that said, let’s start listing.

 

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The show that is most famous for having LGBT characters is Steven Universe, which is still running on cartoon network today. Steven Universe has three very openly lesbian characters: Pearl (who was in love with Steven’s mom Rose before Rose fell for Stevens’ dad and died) Sapphire (who is in love with a girl named Ruby) and Ruby (who is in love with a girl named Sapphire). In fact the show’s other characters are lesbian as well – however, it is never plainly stated. The only way we know that gems (the name of what most of the characters are) are lesbian is that all gems (that we know of) are female so if they are ever in a romantic relationship they kind of have to be lesbian by default. Steven Universe also has a Non Binary Character named Stevonnie. Stevonnie is a Fusion (a combination of the forms of beings obtained by dance) of the show’s main character Steven and his love interest Connie. Connie is a girl and Steven is a boy so it makes sense that the combination of the two would switch pronouns as well as be attractive to both males and females. Steven Universe goes above and beyond with representation and I would love to talk about it more but that’s a whole other post.

Another show with a lot of LGBT characters is Adventure Time. Adventure Time is also a modern cartoon on cartoon network, but it has been on the air far longer then Steven Universe. It has two bisexual characters: Marceline The Vampire Queen who was in love with Princess Bubblegum before they broke up due to the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom, and Princess Bubblegum who, you guessed it, was in love with Marceline before they broke up because of the responsibilities of ruling a kingdom. The show also has a non-binary character named BMO as well. BMO switches pronouns quite a lot and in the gender bended fanfic written by the Ice King (another character) BMO doesn’t change.

BMU does a happy dance

BMO

It’s not only modern cartoons though; Hey Arnold had a gay character way back in the day when it ran on Nickelodeon. His name was Robert Simmons and he was Arnold’s schoolteacher. Disney Channels’ old show Gargoyles also had a gay character named Lexington. He was one of the three main characters.

Disney, Nick, and Cartoon Network all have beautifully represented the LGBTQ community and still do with not only the characters listed before but with sill others like

Asami and Korra holding hands

Asami and Korra

Asami and Korra from Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, who were revealed to be in love with each other during the show’s finale. Or with Rick from Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty on Cartoon Network who (though never hinted at or mentioned in the show) was revealed by the show’s creator to be pansexual. There’s also Luna Loud from a modern Nick show called the Loud House who is bisexual. In the modern Disney cartoon that ended far too quickly (Gravity Falls) there are two male cops who are in love with each other and last but not least Jeff (one of the main characters in a modern cartoon network show called Clarence) has two moms. That’s twenty-two LGBT cartoon characters all represented as actual complex and beautiful human beings not to mention there’s probably a lot that I just never heard about, and all the ships. Live Action, your move.

 

Between the Lines Book Club: A Timeline

between the lines book club logoI hope all the book club members are enjoying their summer! Our June book is the delightful A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. We will be meeting in person to discuss the book at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM on June 24, 2017. Please join us, and/or leave comments below!

One of the most interesting facets of A Gentleman in Moscow is that it alludes to historical events that happen outside the hotel, but only obliquely. Here’s a timeline of some of the major events taking place in Russia during the Count’s stay at the Metropol Hotel. I’m summarizing events from a timeline on wikipedia which gives specific dates and lists many more events, with links for details.

1922 – 1930:

Russia expands its territory under Lenin’s leadership.

A famine kills an estimated 5 million people.

The hotel is turned into an office building and apartments for bureaucrats.

The 1924 constitution comes into effect. Lenin dies.

Stalin establishes the first gulag and announces state industrialization plans.

1930 – 1940:

The Metropol is restored as a hotel.

Collectivization is established by Stalin.

The Great Purge results in the establishment of the NKVD troika.

The Holodomor, a man-made famine, kills 7-10 million people in Ukraine. A broader famine throughout the Soviet Union kills millions more.

1940 – 1950:

Stalin orders Trotsky’s assassination

The Germans invade Russia, lay siege to Leningrad, and almost succeed in taking Moscow.

The Germans retreat (1944).

The Soviets capture Berlin.

In the immediate post-war era many countries change leadership and borders, often violently.

The Soviets develop their first atomic bomb.

1950 – 1960:

Stalin dies and Kruschev takes over.

The first Indochina War begins and the Korean War ends.

The Vietnam War begins.

 

 

 

 

Where have I been all month?

IMG_7154Good lord, I haven’t posted anything other than Between the Lines Book Club posts since mid-May. Here’s where I’ve been:

RT Convention, Atlanta, Georgia

What a wonderful event! I love seeing my friends and fellow Smart Bitches. Highlights: Yarn Shopping, Reader Recommendation Panel, Bollywood Panel, Center for Civil and Human Rights, and discovering that Georgia is beautiful and green.

We recorded a podcast about RT at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

BayCon, San Mateo, California

One of my two home conventions where I get together with good friends and eat a lot and have a great time! This year my daughter and I were both guests and performers at the Variety Show. It’s been a wonderful place for my daughter to grow up and seeing her move into more adult roles (but not too adult) is incredibly moving. Meanwhile I got support from friends and inspiration from everyone. If you are interested in attending in 2018, here’s the BayCon link.

Home

Dear lord, what a month we had at home. School play, school talent show, end of year school projects, open house, the inevitable post RT fibro flare that segued straight into the inevitable BayCon fibro flare, Bike Month, Mother’s Day, hay fever. Much good stress, a little bad stress, all busy. Also I watched two seasons of The Expanse in preparation for BayCon. It was FOR WORK, OK? I googled those screencaps of Amos FOR RESEARCH.

So, now here we are, almost halfway through June, and I’m still catching up (this involves a lot of sleep, frankly). If you are one of the friends I saw at BayCon or RT, thank you for making it so special! If I missed you, let’s be sure to meet next time!

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: The Metropol Hotel

between the lines book club logoThis month in Between the Lines Book Club we are reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The premise of the book is that a gentleman is confined to house arrest in The Metropol Hotel in Moscow for the rest of his life. We’ll be discussing the book at Arden Dimick Library on Saturday June 24 at 10:30AM.

The Metropol is an actual hotel in Moscow, one with a history just as fascinating as the one described in Towles’ book. Construction on the hotel started in 1899 and finished in 1907. It’s near The Kremlin and across from the Bolshoi Ballet.

In 1918, the Bolsheviks (the group led by Lenin that became The Communist Party) took over the hotel and turned it into a home for their new bureaucracy. In the 1930s, the government became concerned that if the country seemed too drab, the West would be come convinced that Communism was failing. They restored the hotel, which became a gathering place for journalists and celebrities. Some of the famous guests have been e.e. cummings, Lillian Hellman, John Steinbeck, Marlene Dietrich, and Michael Jackson. You can find a timeline of the hotel’s history here. Another place to find history, including journalists describing staying in the hotel during the October Revolution, is Amor Towles’ website.

There are 365 rooms in the hotel, and no two are alike. Rooms are furnished with antiques. And yes, it’s well-reviewed on TripAdvisor and it does have wi-fi!

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