Thursday, May 29, 2014

ArmchairBEA Day 4: Beyond the Borders

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going! 

Diversity is important for me. A banal statement, coming from a heterosexual cisgender white woman, but I have enough empathy to know that feeling underrepresented and invisible sucks. Not only does it suck but it reinforces all kinds of shitty "-ist" paradigms. I guess it comes out of my experience of being fat?

Back in 2009 (or maybe even longer ago), I decided to embark on the 101 Things in 1001 Days project. I think lists are a great way to push yourself to accomplishing things that are important to you; at the very least they keep you from being bored. One of the items on my first list, which is also on my second list because I didn't finish it, was to read every book on the TIME Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century list.

There are about 17 women on that list. About 9 or 10 of the writers are POC. The overlap of women and color on that list is even smaller: 3. (They are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Zadie Smith. Yes, not even the late, celebrated Maya Angelou made the cut. Is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings too autobiographical to qualify?)

At some point during the list I started to notice the Old White Dude theme and so I decided to try to mix it up a bit. Here is my altered list, which I don't think I've shared on this blog before:

1. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
2. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
3. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
4. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
5. Animal Farm, George Orwell
6. Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara
7. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
8. The Assistant, Bernard Malamud
9. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien
10. Atonement, Ian McEwan
11. Beloved, Toni Morrison

12. The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood
13. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
14. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
15. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
16. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
17. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

18. Call It Sleep, Henry Roth
19. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
20. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

17 / 20

21. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
22. The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
23. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
24. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
25. Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Patton

26. The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West
27. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
28. A Death in the Family, James Agee

29. The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
30. Deliverance, James Dickey
31. Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone
32. Falconer, John Cheever
33. The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
34. Martha Quest, Doris Lessing
35. Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
36. The Gravedigger's Daughter, Joyce Carol Oates
37. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
38. Please Look After Mother, Shin Kyung-sook
39. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
40. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

12 / 20

41. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
42. Native Speaker, Lee Chang-rae
43. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

44. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
45. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
46. I, Claudius, Robert Graves
47. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
48. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
49. Light in August, William Faulkner
50. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
51. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
52. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
53. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
54. Kokoro, Soseki Natsumi
55. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

56. The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead
57. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
58. Money, Martin Amis

59. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
60. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

17 / 20

61. Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
62. Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

63. Native Son, Richard Wright
64. Neuromancer, William Gibson
65. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
66. 1984, George Orwell
67. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
68. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
69. The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski

70. The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi
71. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
72. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
73. Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
74. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
75. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
76. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
77. Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

78. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
79. Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
80. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

15 / 20

81. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
82. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
83. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

84. Possession, AS Byatt
85. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
86. Your Republic is Calling You, Kim Young-ha

87. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre
88. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
89. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
90. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
91. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
92. Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence

93. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
94. Ubik, Philip K. Dick
95. Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
96. Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins
97. Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

98. White Noise, Don DeLillo
99. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
100. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

There are 18 substitutions I've made. Two of them were just one author's book for another based on what I could find at the time, but the rest were totally new authors. Here are the books I jettisoned:

A Dance to the Music of Time
Gone With the Wind
Gravity's Rainbow
A Handful of Dust
The Heart of the Matter
A House For Mr. Biswas
Pale Fire
Portnoy's Complaint
The Recognitions
The Sot-Weed Factor
The Sound and the Fury
The Sportswriter
To the Lighthouse
Under the Volcano

First and foremost, I decided to do away with any author repeats. The only repeat I kept was George Orwell, but even then I think before the end of this list I'll choose another book replace either Animal Farm or 1984. So that meant one book each by Saul Bellows, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Philip Roth, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and Evelyn Waugh got axed. I also deliberately took Gone With the Wind off the list because there is nothing more unappealing to me than the American Civil War (sorry).

How to fill those gaps? First, I chose highly-acclaimed work by (East) Asian authors, a continent I felt was poorly represented (minus India). Those books included Native Speaker, Please Look After Mother, Farewell to Manzanar, The Namesake, The Buddha of Suburbia, Kafka on the Shore, and Your Republic is Calling You. I also added books I wanted to read but hadn't yet, but were considered classics (Sons and Lovers, The Jungle), and one book I thought had been unfairly excluded (The Name of the Rose).

As my list went on, I read other books too. Once in a while I would read one that was really good, so good I was surprised it wasn't already on the list (Cry, The Beloved Country and The Good Earth spring to mind) and I would go over the list with a fine-toothed comb to figure out which title I wanted to remove for the sake of its inclusion. I guess I could have just added it to the list to make it 101 books or 102 books or so on, but I want to keep it at list of 100 books.

My new list has more, but still too few, women (24 instead of 17), writers of color (15 instead of 10), and women of color (6 instead of 3), and there are still huge gaps when it comes to other issues, but it's a start.

I go through all of this work and deliberately search for stories about and by people who aren't Old White Dudes because the stories we repeat and tell ourselves are important. It creates the bulk of the social reality around us. Physical reality things, like gravity and evolution, can't be manipulated or distorted—there is literally no escaping gravity, and natural selection goes on every day—but social reality things like stereotypes, social norms, and gender roles are malleable and can be altered. A large part of that alteration comes from being exposed to new stories, and new kinds of stories, and often. There is a hidden, truthful reality about race and gender and whatever else, but first we need to undo the stereotypes and preconceptions that prevents us from accepting them. I keep linking to this but it's still relevant: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative. This article only focuses on the representation of women but it works for just about any marginalized group.

The stories we tell create our paradigms. That has been made painfully apparent this past week. To insist otherwise is naive, and that's why diversity in fiction and media matters.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ArmchairBEA Day 3: Expanding Blogging Horizons and Novellas/Short Stories

First, I want to say that I had SO MUCH FUN at the #ArmchairBEA Twitter party yesterday (last night for me, hah). I usually use Twitter as a series of public Post-it notes, like: "This quote is funny!" or "I just wrote a blog entry!" or "Check out this link!". #ArmchairBEA is my first experience with using Twitter as a realtime conversation tool. It got off to a slow start but then we started talking about the finesse of GoodReads reviews (a 3-star review isn't a bad review) and overhyped books and it was like I had found my people.

Second, I want to say that I picked a great week to have a leg injury. If I can't be out and about too much, then at least I have something to blog about while I'm sitting at home.

(I broke my butt doing yoga—no joke. It's recovering, but slowly, because it's hard to rest, compress, and elevate your butt.)

What do you think about when you think about going beyond blogging or expanding your horizons? Is it a redesign of your blog? Have you branched out into freelance writing or even published a novel of your very own? Or, have you moved into a different venue like podcasts or vlogging? This is the day to tell us about how you have expanded on blogging in your own unique way. 

To be honest I don't think of myself as a ~blogger~ because I do it primarily for fun and secondarily as a way to build my jewelry brand. (For those of you who are finding me through #ArmchairBEA: yes, I make jewelry, math jewelry even, but I love books so much I can't NOT blog about them.)

The thing I'd like to do most is redesign the site, and even then not by very much. Maybe switch up the photos in my banner up top (or more accurately, have JV switch them up), and, more importantly, get a slicker, "not-so-obviously-from-Blogger" layout going. But then, to be honest, I read most of my blogs through a reader (first Google reader, then The Old Reader, now Inoreader), so you could have the most beautiful website in the world and it wouldn't make much difference to me anyway. so it's not like I know or care if any of them have very basic layouts.

I am not a big podcast fan—like with audiobooks that I mentioned in yesterday's post, I space out and don't follow the conversation/monologue, no matter what. Right now I'm listening to The History of Rome but I have to set aside time for that, and sit with a notebook and pen to take notes. So why would I start blogging in a format I hate?

Vlogging has the same problems for me as podcasts. The videos I watch tend to be more webseries than actual vlogs, and I might as well take the time now to note a couple I regularly enjoy.

MinutePhysics by Henry Reich is a series of great, well-explained animated answers to sometimes-tough science questions. If there's ever a science question that's had you puzzled, check the archive of videos. Maybe Reich's tackled it already!

Vi Hart has a similar channel with math doodles, though it's mostly focused on pure mathematics (and other things, like net neutrality and 12-tone series). I love the dry sense of humor she uses in every video.

The Tabletop series from Geek and Sundry is a fun way to discover new board games, in addition to just being entertaining to watch.

Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn't get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors? 

I typically don't read shorter pieces. I think that's because, as a writer, I always struggled with keeping my short stories short. Brevity is not my strong suit! Likewise, I like to read things that are like what I (sometimes attempt to) write: full-length novels.

 Of my own free will I've read maybe one anthology of short fiction in my life (Year's Best SF 16 or something like that), and a handful of Sherlock Holmes stories. Most of the short fiction I've read has been for school, and so the results are hit and miss. Ilse Aichinger's "The Bound Man" is a hit. So is "Children on Their Birthdays," or maybe I just liked it because Truman Capote was an author I actually had heard of. I at least remember Jorge Luis Borges' "The Aleph," though I couldn't say how much I actually liked it. I also had to read a lot from Peter Meinke's Unheard Music collection, but none of them really stood out as shining examples of the genre. Needless to say, my copies of The Art of the Tale, The Art of the Story, and Best American Fiction 2007 stayed in my library after college. Unheard Music did not.

If I stretch all the way back to eighth grade, there's also "Star Food," by Ethan Canin, from his collection, Emperor of the Air.

The one and only anthology of short stories I've really loved and enjoyed, in totality, is the Flight series. Tying in to yesterday's collection, it is a graphic novel collection. Or rather, a graphic short story collection. If you haven't read a Flight anthology, you're missing out.

Edit: I totally lied! I forgot to mention Philip K. Dick! Shame on me, I even wrote on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for my senior philosophy thesis. But his short stories are masterpieces. I've been meaning to re-read "Minority Report" and "Paycheck" for a while, now. They are excellent stories. The movies.....questionable.

What's your favorite short fiction anthology?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ArmchairBEA, Day 2: Author Interaction and More Than Just Words

Let’s talk interacting with authors IRL (in real life) or online. This is your opportunity to talk about your favorite author readings that you have attended. Or, you can feature your favorite author fan moment (i.e., an author sent you a tweet or commented on your blog). Maybe you even want to share how your interactions have changed since becoming a blogger or share your own tips that you have learned along the way when interacting with authors as a blogger. 

I guess because most of my favorite authors are dead, I haven't interacted much with any writers or been to any readings. I'm not really in touch with the book trends these days (allow me to rock in my rocking chair and wave my shotgun around threateningly at all the kids on my damn lawn) so actually engaging with authors is totally alien to me.

I attended a panel with George R. R. Martin when I went to Vericon, which would have been cool if I actually liked the A Song of Fire and Ice series. I also follow Grant Morrison, William Gibson, and Warren Ellis on Twitter but I don't really try to interact with them.

I'm just a really boring person, I guess!

There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats? 

The format everyone is talking about for this question is graphic novels. I'm a fan, and I've been leaving recommendations on other blog posts, but I figure I might round them up in one place!

The first kind of graphic novels I really like are the superhero deconstruction ones. "Red Son" by Mark Millar takes the great American hero, Superman, and posits an alternative universe where he landed in the Soviet Union. I generally think Superman is the single most boring hero in the genre, but a spin like this is really interesting. Plus there are cameos from Soviet Batman and Soviet Wonder Woman! Grant Morrison's little 5-issue "Supergod" also falls into this category.

The other two superhero genres I like are less deconstruction and more just general "pomo" superheroes, a bit grittier and more realistic. The first is Grant Morrison's run on "Doom Patrol," though it kind of peters out towards the end. The first two volumes are great and once I have more shelf space and a million dollars I'll have copies of my very own. The second is Brian K. Vaughan's "Ex Machina." I never got to finish the series, but I love the premise (guy gets cool tech-related superpowers from some weird artifact in the Hudson, does the superhero thing for a while and then becomes mayor of NYC). Hopefully one day I'll be able to read the whole thing!

The other kind of graphic novel I like is much more like a visual art project. The "Kabuki" series from David Mack starts out as a rather straightforward cyberpunkish thriller ("Circle of Blood), but later collections move from simple black-and-white ink drawings to glossy full-color mixed media collages ("The Alchemy").

Mystery Play also plays a lot with art form, though not to the extent that "Kabuki: The Alchemy" does. But the blurry water colors do a lot to reinforce the surreal, dream-like nature of the story.  Do you know of any other graphic novels with art like this?

Promethea is a kind of combination of the two: she is a sort of ceremonial/chaos magic superheroine, but the story goes to some truly unique and trippy places. I'll take this piece of the Alan Moore oeuvre over Watchmen or V for Vendetta any day. 

While Train Man only uses the regular written word, I feel it deserves a mention here because it uses an entirely new novel format: the story is told exclusively through a series of Internet messageboard posts. Posts that actually existed on 2chan and that you can go and read online for yourself (if you can read Japanese). Who knows how much of it's actually true and how much of it is one sad guy posting a lengthy fiction on 2chan to entertain himself and others, but it's the format I find intriguing. It's like a 21st century epistolary novel.

Audiobooks will never be for me; I get frustrated with how slowly people speak compared to how quickly I can process the words on my own. If I put something like a video lecture or a podcast on in the background I can 100% guarantee that I will space out and not absorb anything unless I sit and take notes. I much prefer music for my background noise. 

Special shout-out also goes to Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, which I could never get my hands on when it came out, and which is now useless to have since the text comes on a now-antiquated 3.5" floppy disk. Nonetheless, I still think the concept was a genius one and hope to see something like it again in the future.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Armchair BEA: Introduction

The #ArmchairBEA (Armchair Book Expo America) is slated to being, uh, today? Maybe? I'm going to (try to) participate over on Twitter (as best I can in my GMT +1 time zone). Here are the introductory questions, if you'd like to be polite and introduce yourself, and here is party HQ. Use the hashtag #ArmchairBEA on Twitter to join the conversation!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from? 

Hello! I am a twenty-something American expat in Stockholm. Normally this is where I blog about (feminism and women in) STEM and my jewelry, but I also am an avid reader and so stuff about books finds its way here, too. I've been keeping this blog since 2010 but I've been blogging online in one form or another since 2003. I've got, like, opinions, maaaaaaaaan, and I have to express them somewhere!

What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ . 

It changes depending on my goals and mood. SF/F is a genre that I'm always willing to tackle, though I am very picky about it. Right after college I went on a pop nonfiction binge because I had read basically nothing but either heavy-duty philosophy texts or the canon works of Western literature for my English (Creative Writing) and Philosophy degrees and my analytic, critical mind just needed a bit of a break. At the moment I'm trying to read all of the books on TIME magazine's "Top 100 Novels of the Twentieth Century" list, with alterations here and there, so right now I'm reading a lot of "literary fiction." Which ties in nicely with the first blog topic!

What do you think of when you think of literature? Classics, contemporary, genre, or something else entirely? We are leaving this one up to you to come up with and share the literature that you want to chat about the most. Feel free to share a list of your favorites, break down your favorite genre, feature your favorite authors, and be creative about all things literature in general. 

For me and my English degree, literature is all that great stuff in the canon, plus the stuff that women, people of color, and other marginalized people may have been writing at the same time as the dead famous white guys. It's writing that is it at once easy and addictive and compelling to read but also difficult, requiring lots of thought and rereads. It speaks to issues that are both timely and universal.

My goal after the TIME Top 100 list is to crack some literature outside of English, in Swedish and French (two languages I can read fairly well) and translated to English otherwise. My favorite discovery in this quest so far is Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki. Do you have any other nonanglophone books to recommend? Please do so in the comments—I'm always looking for new reads!

The other thing I'm always looking for is a fresh take on the novel form and different ways of storytelling. I didn't care much for the story of Train Man—even though it is purportedly a true story about an Internet message board helping one timid user on his quest for love, it does become so Hollywood that you have to wonder who is lying, about what, and how much—but the idea of a bunch of disparate posts on the Internet coming together to be a story as a 21st century epistolary novel is really cool. I hope that's a format that catches on in the world of "professional fiction."

Maybe I ought to write that novel. Hum.

I love to read because I love being challenged and educated. Entertainment is nice, too, but I like it when a book goes above and beyond that. I like learning about how the world works, or about how people who are different from me experience the world.

What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year? 

I read some good books last year: The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Death Comes For the ArchbishopBeloved, and A Confederacy of Dunces all stand out as excellent, thoughtful novels I'd like to add to my permanent collection. In terms of more recent books, the only new release I read this year was Crown of Midnight, the second book in the very fun, very dramatic Throne of Glass series.

What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like? (Pinterest encouraged!) 

This is Rockin' J's hostel in Puerto Viejo. I spent a few nights here when I was in Costa Rica and there is nothing better than snuggling in one of their hammocks and reading while you listen to the rain on the roof. This is where I read the bulk of Infinite Jest, in one of the hammocks on the left.

Share your favorite book or reading related quote. 

There are so many, but I think I'll choose one from Walden, from the chapter called "Reading." It stuck with me the first time I ever read it and it still resonates with me now, and I think it's a good quote to leave off with:

However much we may admire the orator's occasional bursts of eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly as far behind or above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars is behind the clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may read them. The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath. What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and health of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.
Nice to meet you all!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beaded "Chan Luu" Wrap Bracelet: Second Experiment (Hemp)

Whenever I discover a new technique, I can get kind of obsessed. After my first Chan Luu bracelet attempt went so well I decided to try another. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the last of the leather I bought. I do, however, have a whole lot of hemp (for another style I'm working on, but more on that another time). Even though all the bracelet styles I had seen earlier had used leather or faux leather, why wouldn't hemp work? I couldn't think of a reason, so I sat down and made one.

A Chan Luu inspired wrap bracelet with red creek jasper, hemp, and pi.

A Chan Luu inspired wrap bracelet with red creek jasper, hemp, and pi.

Fortunately this hemp is nice and soft, not rough and itchy, so it's very comfortable to wear. As you can infer from the photos, the hemp also has a little less structural integrity than the leather, so it drapes and bends much easier. After wearing both, I do think I prefer the hemp one, but everyone has different tastes. 

I'm also a lot happier with how the hemp one came out aesthetically: no goofs in the beadweaving, and no weird distortions due to the two different bead sizes.

Oh, I almost forgot! Of course this is a pi bracelet. Pi is spelled out in the red creek jasper beads; the white generic stone ones are the spacers. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Apple

#65. The Apple

In case you forgot: The Power Trio plus a few redshirts are investigating an unknown planet. After Spock gets sick and a few redshirts eat it, they learn the planet is run by a giant computer fed by the spray-tanned inhabitants of the planet, who never age or have sex. Kirk and company destroy the computer to save the Enterprise and to teach the inhabitants how to get freaky.

Welcome to a theme you're going to see a lot on this list: "computer running society to disastrous results." The Apple is the worst of it, because you have to wonder if The Enterprise ultimately brought more net good or net evil into the galaxy. Other computer-run societies in we see in Star Trek:TOS do legitimately kind of suck, for one reason or another. Vaal (the binary beast in question), by comparison, is benevolent (aside from a bizarre, Puritanical aversion to sex), and everyone who lives on Gamma Trianguli VI seems to have a good run of it. Okay, so Vaal has fucked with The Enterprise somehow and so must be destroyed to save the crew of 430-odd souls, but the moral question of the episode hinges around whether or not destroying Vaal is good for the planet's residents.

(Wait, I'm suddenly reminded of the TNG episode Justice....)

Maybe it was intended to be one of those stories that was bittersweet, or at least morally ambiguous, but I don't think so—the series is very fond of preaching the wonders of self-determination and independence, and whatever solution celebrates these qualities the most is invariably The Right Thing To Do (episodes where Kirk risks the crew to save a landing party of a dozen or so excluded). Sure, they don't have a hedonistic (though virgin) paradise anymore, but the people now have social progress! And sex!

There's not much of a story, or at least not one that can fill 50 minutes without padding. This episode, they up the ante by making Spock sick, killing a couple redshirts, and leaving Kirk to wonder if he's really fit for this starship captain business. Which would be an interesting conceit on its own, and actually deserves its own story. Not a perfunctory five or ten minutes in an episode that can't stand on its own legs.

The A.V. Club also took on every Star Trek: TOS  episode, and noted that it would have been a cool story conceit if once in a while the Enterprise just came across some weird, fucked-up shit in the galaxy they couldn't understand or fix, and just peaced out. I agree, because that's probably want intragalactic (and intergalactic, for that matter) space travel would be like: "Well, it looks like some more weird shit that isn't exactly hostile but that we can't explain, captain." Props to Stanislaw Lem for doing exactly that. But Star Trek isn't about making that kind of weirdo, postmodern statement about the true nature of space travel, so when it doesn't give a proper history or background of any of its peoples or even monsters (or as proper as one can expect if we're operating under situations of extreme duress), it's deeply unsatisfying, Who built Vaal? How do his people seem to stay young and vital presumably into perpetuity? How does Vaal even work? Why hasn't anyone ever thought to bump uglies? If the episode had focused more on these questions as filler, instead of dead redshirts and a suddenly-insecure Kirk, it might have been passable.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Easy Vegan Gluten-Free Chocolate Almond Half-and-Half Cookies

I am not one for food fads, ever. Removing animal products from your diet isn't inherently healthier than keeping them in; eliminating gluten from your diet isn't inherently healthier than keeping it in, (legitimate medical issues aside).

But I have friends and loved ones who have different dietary needs and wants than I do, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn't remember that? A crappy one. I've made vegan cookies before, but that recipe was one that took a lot of work and was vegan by virtue of substituting vegetable shortening in for butter. This time, I decided to see what I could do with almond paste (mandelmassa), since I didn't have a giant tub of Crisco at my disposal. I didn't set out to make something gluten-free. That was just a happy accident.

There are lots of recipes for almond paste cookies if you go looking, but I winged it on this recipe. You can really do anything you like with the stuff, it's pretty much like ready-made cookie dough.

Half-and-Half Dark Chocolate Almond Cookies

These two-ingredient almond dark chocolate cookies are perfect for when you want to bake, but not too much.


Almond paste. I bought mine ready-made, but you can always make your own. Here's one recipe, though it's not vegan (uses egg whites and butter). This one has no eggs or butter, but it does have honey, which might or might not be okay, depending on your vegan(s). This one has no animal products whatsoever. I checked the ingredients on mine (a generic Swedish store brand) to make sure there were no animal products. 250 grams (a generous cup) of paste yielded about 4 dozen cookies for me, but YMMV.

Dark chocolate (melted). It's vegan! Being able to eat dark chocolate is almost enough to make up for giving up cheese, I suppose. Remember to check the label: some chocolate is processed in facilities with milk (or nuts, or soy). I prepared 100 grams but 50 would have been enough for my purposes. That's okay, leftover chocolate is hardly a problem for me.

Estimated prep time:

With ready-made paste, and including baking, about 15 minutes. Longer if you decide to make your own paste or to do something fancy with the chocolate. Allow at least an hour to cool.

Putting it together:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 *F or 200 *C, whichever system you use.
  2. Roll your almond paste into little logs. Size is up to you; I like ones that are about the width and length of my thumb.
  3. Arrange the logs on your cookie sheet. The almond paste doesn't spread like batter, so you can have them a little close to each other. It does rise fairly significantly, so press your logs firmly into the sheet.
  4. Bake for 4–6 minutes. Mine got nice and golden on top but a little too brown on the bottom after 6 minutes at 200 *C, but everyone's oven is different. 
  5. While your cookies are baking/cooling, melt the dark chocolate however you prefer. (I microwaved mine on medium for 30 seconds.)
  6. Dip the cookies in the melted chocolate as generously or as conservatively as you like. I tried to cover about half of each cookie for the visual effect and to keep from getting my hands messy. Twirl the log in the chocolate so that you get the sides covered as well.
  7. Let cool in the fridge for at least an hour.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Savage Curtain

#66. The Savage Curtain

In case you forgot: A race of rock aliens is confused by this whole "good" and "evil" nonsense and so abducts Kirk, Spock, Abraham Lincoln, and some dead, famous Vulcan to engage in "truth by death match."

What more is there to say except this is just more backassing? "How can I work Abraham Lincoln into the story? Hm, I know!"

The race of rock monster is the much more interesting idea to be had, but then I suppose we've seen it done much better with the Horta.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I Read: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I finally got my Stockholm City Library card a couple of weeks ago, so I am back on track when it comes to making headway through the TIME Top 100 Novels list. If I'm going to finish by my projected end date (March 29, 2015) then I'm going to have to buckle down.

I got back in the swing of things with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a slim volume that also happened to be practically the only book left on the list that was available at my particular branch of the library and wasn't checked out. It was one I had been putting off for last, if I am to be totally honest—not because I was dreading reading it, but I somehow just knew I would really like it and on a task like this I'd like to go out on a strong note.

My intuition was right, or mostly right. I did really like it but it was definitely not the kind of book I was expecting, either in structure or story. For some reason I thought it would be a light comedy bildungsroman, something like Lucky Jim or Under the Net. Perhaps something a little more serious but equally straightforward, like Death Comes for the Archbishop. Closer, but not quite.

Miss Brodie teaches at a fictional school for girls in Edinburgh during the 1930s, though is ultimately forced to retire. The story follows the perspective of one of her students, Sandy, and this is how we get to know the titular character. Between this narrative distance and the jumps in time, the novel becomes quite dreamlike and ambiguous. Who is Miss Jean Brodie? Really? That is the question at the center of the novel, one that Sandy seems to have devoted her entire life to answering. She even wrote a book on the topic, but Spark touches on the book—from all indications a best-selling life-changer sort of book—in only the most general of ways. We get little more than the title: The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Whatever is in it has prompted at least a few people to come visit Sandy, now a nun in a convent, in person to discuss it.

Miss Brodie talks a lot about wanting to truly educate her pupils, to open their minds and coax out the best from within them, but at all points in the book she seems little more than a petty tyrant, never coaxing out greatness but rather dictating her own truths:
“Who is the greatest Italian painter?”
“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”
“That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.”
Are we supposed to detect this hypocrisy in Miss Brodie's character? Does she even detect it herself?

One also questions why, exactly, Miss Brodie finds it necessary to groom some of her young wards into their own private club, "the Brodie set." Some of their activities truly overstep the bounds that are appropriate between a teacher and her pupils: discussing personal details about her love life, conflicts with her coworkers and supervisors, and so forth. Doesn't she have any adult friends she can talk to about these things?

Never mind her penchant for control and manipulation, underscored by her admiration of Mussolini's Fascists and, later, pre-WWII Nazis. During her affair with the music teacher, Miss Brodie takes charge of practically the whole house, ostensibly because his current housekeepers leave meager food portions, while her lover just stands by, browbeaten. After the Brodie set graduates into the Senior school, she still stays involved in their lives and even attempts to manipulate one of them into having an affair with the art teacher.

The portrait I took from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was not of a strong-willed but idealistic and romantic young woman "fighting the good fight," but of someone so emotionally stunted and isolated that she was only capable of relating to her students—people from whom she could essentially demand friendship. A woman who, perhaps after suffering the unthinkable loss of her fiancée, became addicted to control. To power. All in all, someone quite repulsive—perhaps only made repulsive by personal tragedy, but repulsive nonetheless. That so many readers find her sympathetic, charming, even admirable—I just don't get it.

The first comparison I made upon finishing the book (another member of the One-Sit Read club, by the way) was to Aunt Dan and Lemon, which I saw freshman year of college. Both are stories about mentoring, role models, and women obsessed with power. Each woman ultimately comes to different conclusions by the end of their stories: Aunt Dan rejects her realpolitik beliefs wholeheartedly after falling ill; Brodie seems to have given up on her Fascist leanings but is obsessed with controlling her "crème de la crème" students; Lemon remains fully enthralled by dictatorships (the Nazis in particular) and the rule of the powerful.

The ways that Aunt Dan and Miss Jean Brodie connect to their charges—Aunt Dan to young Lemon, Brodie to the Brodie set—are also identical. They are almost pathologically committed to unburdening their life stories on to whatever captive audience they can find. It seems less like friendship or even mentorship and more like free therapy.

 In the end, Aunt Dan and Miss Brodie are betrayed by their wards, ultimately undone by the strength of their character they impressed upon them. Aunt Dan learns to find compassion and selflessness in her later days, a lesson she cannot convey to the Machiavellian Lemon who has taken Aunt Dan's earlier speeches on Kissinger and realpolitik to heart. Miss Brodie loses her job after a student decides Miss Brodie's attempts at control and manipulation are reprehensible and so lets it slip to the headmistress that Miss Brodie is an enthusiastic Fascist.

It's interesting to note that all three women all end up with serious health afflictions: Aunt Dan and Lemon with some nameless, wasting disease, Miss Brodie with cancer (ovarian, if I understood correctly). Is this the corrupting nature of power, and obsession with it? Did the writers just feel the need to make these characters as weak and dependent as possible so they could observe power from the point of view of the powerless? After all, isn't stripping the powerful bad guy (or their lackey) of their power, rendering them weak and powerless, one of the most popular revenge fantasies played out in literature? Is it a weird happenstance?

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short read, even a light one, but a thought-provoking one at the end of it all. These kinds of character studies are endlessly fascinating to me, even if I find the character being studied utterly unlikable.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beaded "Chan Luu" Wrap Bracelet: First Experiment

I will be the first to admit that I never keep up with trends. This is potentially bad news for someone who makes and designs jewelry—you don't want to be making dowdy old whatsits when everyone has moved on to thingamabobs.

My philosophy has always been that I like what I like, and what I make for my store is primarily what I would make for myself. Sure, some pieces are harder to part with than others, but everything you see in the Kokoba Etsy shop is something I would have in my own jewelry wardrobe.

Except earrings, because I don't have pierced ears.

I can't remember the first time I saw one of these wrapped bracelets (a style attributed to Vietnamese designer Chan Luu), but when I did I was in love. It was this one:

Turquoise and leather wrap bracelet from byjodi on Etsy.
Turquoise and Leather Wrap Bracelet from byjodi on Etsy.

Pinterest says I pinned this about a year ago, so there you have it. I don't know why I put off learning how to do it for so long—I think the thread involved intimidated me, to be honest, because anything approaching beadweaving just makes me panic. I finally conquered my fear, and here is the result!

It is obviously the work of a beginner, with a few small mistakes, so I'm uneasy about selling it. Plus, I love the colors of the round red creek jasper beads paired with my long-time favorite mookaite. Even with the mistakes it might just be too lovely to part with. Guess I'll just have to make some more to share! It also, of course, includes the digits of pi. The round red creek jasper beads spell out the digits of pi, while the mookaite barrels act as spacers. Next time I might try to stick to beads that are more or less the same size; the barrels are a bit longer than the round ones and so there is some weirdness going on in places as a result.

If you are a crafty person and want to give it the old college DIY try, the best tutorial I found was this video from Beads n Things in Rochester, NY (a store I'm not affiliated with, but I wanted to pimp them out because this is a solid how-to vid):

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Way to Eden

#67. The Way to Eden

Hippie cultists from hell.
In case you forgot: Space hippies hijack the Enterprise to search for Eden. Spoiler alert: Eden is really a poisonous death trap full of acid! (Not the kind that would interest space hippies.) The leader of the space hippie cult also carries a virus that might well destroy any available life on this theoretical Eden planet, but he really does not give a fuck.

It was tempting to judge this episode based on the merits of the idea, rather than its execution. Unlike the previous episodes we've seen, Way to Eden at least has somewhat compelling ideas behind it: the Enterprise has to manage a threat from within that ultimately turns out to need their help at the end. There was a lot of potential with Dr. Sevrin (leader of the space hippies) and his bacterial infection—science says if he even finds Eden, the disease he carries will destroy it; Sevrin is convinced that he'll be cured.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and good ideas poorly executed. A great character study could have been done with Sevrin—is he arrogant? desperate? delusional? the future equivalent of people who think vitamins will cure their cancer? We don't know and it's not because of some juicy, well-staged ambiguity, but because the script touches on his predicament for all of two minutes. Instead the episode gets padded out with some of the worst filler in all of Trek history: singing space hippies.

This one comes from my homegirl and HBIC D. C. Fontana, but she was so displeased with the results a pen name went on the final script. It's episodes like these where I'd love to see the original idea filmed, before executive meddling kicked in.

Edit, afterthought: JV and I sat down to watch Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a couple of days ago. There are some parallels between that movie (which I shouldn't like, according to the Even–Odd Rule, but I'm a rebel) and this episode. While The Final Frontier lacks a true analogue for Sevrin (Spock's half-brother is a cult leader, but he has no disease that might destroy his Space Eden), it tackles the "hijack the Enterprise to take it to Space Paradise" theme in a much more satisfying manner.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pinterest Post: Fibonacci Circles; Weird Childbirth Patent; MST3K Melon Ball

If you're not following me on Pinterest, well, why not?! Then you can get all these (and more!) in your life as soon as I find them. But—not every website is for everyone. You'll never find me on Tumblr, that's for damn sure. Here are some of my recent favorites on Pinterest, for those of you who'd rather not:

I've seen Fibonacci spirals before, but I've never seen them fragmented into arcs and then turned into circles. I love it!

I had a high school physics teacher whose mission in life was to eradicate the concept of "centrifugal force" from the "folk physics" paradigm, since it isn't technically a force, so the title of this one makes me cringe even more than it would normally. I showed this to Lawyer Mom and her response was similar: "never, ever in a million years would I have subjected myself to this."

I just like this. That's all. It's almost too well-done to eat.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Iron Content in Cooked Versus Raw Spinach

After a week of feeling generally weak and fatigued, I decided to play amateur doctor and prescribe myself some extra iron. Not unreasonable, at first blush; JV and I eat vegetarian 90% of the time and while we make sure to have a variety of proteins, we don't give much thought to any other minerals or nutrients since they don't directly affect being hungry as much as protein does. Even when we do eat meat, it's usually chicken, which doesn't contain as much iron as beef. (Nor does our grocery store carry chicken livers, which have four times the amount of iron per three ounce serving as beef. But anyway.)

I knew from some long-forgotten health class or Internet reading that spinach, which we have in abundance in our freezer, has lots of iron. But I also remembered something about there being a difference, nutritionally, between raw and cooked spinach. Was this true or not? Since I spent all day Googling to find the answer, I thought I'd collect everything I found for anyone else who'd ever had the same question.

Note: I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, chemist, biologist, or any other kind of expert. The following is the best possible synthesis I could generate of several disparate Internet sources. I did my best to verify everything but no one's ever perfect.

Why Do We Need Iron, Anyway?

Animals and plants both need iron. It's essential for respiration for both groups, though obviously plants and animals have very different respiratory needs. That's why the dietary iron in meat is different from the dietary iron in plant sources, but more on that later.

Oxygen transport is the arguably the foundation for health and fitness in humans; the more oxygen you can get to your muscles, the better you perform. The Lance Armstrong blood-doping scandal involved blood that had elevated levels of red blood cells—the cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, using iron-containing hemoglobin. The doping thus increased the oxygen Armstrong and his teammates were able to supply to their muscles, boosting their endurance and aerobic capacity. In addition to transporting oxygen, iron is also important for the storage of oxygen in muscles and a few other sundry but important tasks.

Too much iron, however, is toxic. Fortunately for most grown humans, the body naturally reduces its absorption of iron if we take in too much. Most cases of iron toxicity occur in small children who think iron supplement pills look like candy—then it's too much, too quickly in a too-small body. There are also some genetic conditions that can lead to iron overload in adults.

How Do We Absorb Iron?

There are two kinds of iron, as far as nutrition is concerned: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is Fe+2 (yes, the same iron ion that contributes to aquamarine's coloring) surrounded by a ring consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and scant bits of oxygen and nitrogen. This is the form most often found in meat and is the kind our bodies absorb best, because animals use iron for the same reasons we do.

Dark, leafy green plants (and anything fortified with iron) contain nonheme iron, which as far as I can tell in my cursory research, is a kind of iron salt: FeCl2, 2 FeCl3, and so on. This makes sense; plants produce oxygen as a waste product, after all, so they don't need to really transport it to cells. Especially to the muscles they don't have. Even so, plant iron is still absorbed by humans—just not as efficiently (something like 10% to 20% from most plant sources, versus the 25% to 35% from animal sources). That's why doctors recommend that vegetarians and vegans consume more iron than meat-eaters. Your body doesn't absorb ALL of the iron (or other nutrients) that you consume.

A lot of the iron in your body is also stored (one could say "hoarded") for future use, mostly in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Red blood cells are also broken down and the body scavenges for any leftover iron, like scrap metal from a junked car. But entropy reigns supreme, and adults lose about 1 mg of iron every day. More if you're a woman, then it rises to about 1.5 to 2 mg (as a result of blood loss during menstruation). This is the point where I decided iron probably wasn't the key to my general malaise—thanks to the magic of hormonal  birth control, my uterine lining stays right where it belongs and I don't otherwise bleed regularly. Nonetheless, what I found was still interesting, so I pressed on with my research.

When it comes to absorbing iron (and many other nutrients), our bodies tend to need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, as it were—other vitamins or nutrients to work in concert with the desired nutrient to facilitate its absorption. Iron is better-absorbed with vitamin C, for example. 

Raw or Cooked?

The meat of the issue—or the vegetable protein of the issue, at any rate. Heating spinach does reduce some of its other nutrients by inducing certain chemical changes. This includes folate, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, and, with regards to iron absorption, vitamin C. However, cooked spinach contains greater absorbable amounts of vitamins A and E, fiber, zinc, thiamin, protein, and iron. It's not so much that heat creates nutrients ex nihilo; rather that it breaks down a given nutrient's inhibitors. 


This is another compound found in spinach, and it dehydrates when heated. It has been demonstrated, in some studies, to inhibit iron absorption, leading some sources to question spinach's reputation as an iron powerhouse. Other studies have suggested, however, that oxalic's effect in iron absorption is negligible. So maybe you don't need to cook your spinach for iron after all?

How do you like your spinach? Raw or cooked?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trek Thursday: Day of the Dove

#69. Day of the Dove

Star Trek Day of the Dove review.

In case you forgot: Ghostly mirror ball incites violence, enmity, and other nasty things between the Enterprise and a captured Klingon landing party. Kirk and the Klingons team up to defeat the monster with the power of  laughter.

Ah, back when the Klingons looked like Puerto Ricans and dressed in gold lamé. To be fair to this episode, even though there are only two TOS episodes below it on this list, I can imagine a world where I'd sit through a rewatch of Day of the Dove (which I keep wanting to type as Dave of the Dove or Day of the Dave for some reason). I can't imagine a day where I'd ever want to sit through The Omega Glory or The Paradise Syndrome ever again.

You have to admire Roddenberry's vision of a relatively peaceful future (aside from necessary, plot-instigating incidents) without racism or prejudice, but sometimes TOS's anviliciousness is a little too much to bear. Here is one of these cases: Kang opposes a ceasefire, and so Spock and Kirk have to give really passionate speeches about peace and tolerance and stuff. Surely a war-like people with enough logic and science to have space-faring technology that's even superior to the Federation's in some respects (e.g., their cloaking devices) would understand that to guarantee their own survival, violence has to wait for another day; Kang's resistance, which borders close to Idiot Ball territory, really takes you out of the episode.

Which is too bad, because the episode has potential. The ghostly mirror ball that feeds off of negative vibes is an idea similar to one in an episode we'll be looking at eventually, Wolf in the Fold, only that power manages to be a lot more sinister, even if it was only in the episode for a grand total of fifteen minutes—mainly because it actually did things to foster the negative feelings it craved so much, going so far as to take over the entire ship's computer. It obviously had something like active agency. Conversely, the ghostly mirror ball in Day of the Dove does fuck all for most of the episode, aside from keeping the Klingons and humans (and Spock) alive. It has no agency; it chooses to rely on hope and dumb luck for the two of them to provoke each other, even though it seems like it could do a lot more to provoke them. (It gave Chekhov a lifetime of false memories of a dead brother, after all.) If more time had been spent on the evil godlike being going around and actually creating chaos and violent encounters, and less on the Aesop and protracted scenes of fake laughter, it could have been pretty good. But there wasn't, so it isn't.