Another post today!

No, this doesn’t mean I’ve actually got no life at all, it just means that I read another short book.

Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews and Will Conrad

This was my second attempt at a graphic novel/comic. I read another Joss Whedon one last summer but I didn’t get that much out of it. Probably because it was the third of four and I had no context for the aliens attacking the X-Men. Whatever, I want to read graphic novels/ comics ’cause they’re really neat and people are doing neat things with them (like Shakespeare!) but I have trouble reading the bubbles in order.

However, I used to have a lot of problems reading words in order too and I practiced my way out of that, so hopefully the same theory will apply here.

So this little graphic novel/comic covers why Inara and Book decided to leave Serenity (other than plot points for the movie I suppose.)

I’d really like to say some super intelligent stuff about this book, but I don’t really know what it should be. I mean, I don’t have a lot of points of comparison for this. Was it a good story? I suppose so. I mean, not complicated or anything, and very short but I enjoyed it. Were the characters good? Yes but there wasn’t much character development  (it was short) so if I hadn’t seen Firefly six hundred and nine times I probably wouldn’t have loved them as much as I do (although I enjoyed reading the words in my head with the actor’s voices). The pictures were nice, really neat even and they were very narrative but they weren’t beautiful either.

So I’m going to have to read some other graphic novel/comics to get some points of reference and will report back later.

Last movie I watched (before the last movie I watched in the last post): Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Those movies handled their death scenes really well.

Last TV show I watched (before the last TV show I watched int he last post): LEVERAGE! Everyone should see this show. It’s like Ocean’s 11 but you only need to keep track of 5 people instead of 11 and they screw corporations to empower individuals! I love that story line!

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Why all the hatred for snakes?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.

Just wondering. I mean there’s lots of mythological evidence to suggest that people should really hate snakes, but you know – they are mostly myths. I’ve also heard a lot of (extremely) feminist theory that snakes were used in very, very old religions as a symbol of Mother Earth and that’s why patriarchal religions are always villain-ifying the poor guys. I suspect that’s a very simplified reading of history but anyway.  I guess it’s ’cause they have no legs. Things without legs are scary when they move.

Anyway, time to ignore an intertextual analysis of Harry Potter and major western (ish) religions starting with the Greeks. I’d really have to do a lot of research before I could make it good and it’s the first day it’s rained in the whole month of July, so I feel more celebratory than research-y. Plus it’d be boring to anyone who isn’t me.

Okay! Harry Potter.

Chamber of Secrets was one of my lesser favourites the first time I read them but I think that’s partly because Philosopher’s Stone was so excellent and Prisoner of Azkaban was my most favourite. I just read it and had no idea what my twelve year old self had against it.

Again, I feel like there’s no point it summarizing Harry Potter. It is one of the short, lighter Harry Potters but we’re starting to see the connections between Harry and Voldemort which will be so important later. We see the beginning of Ginny and Harry (but luckily for all of us, that story gets more complicated and Ginny out grows her uselessness and crushing and becomes awesome!). We see the first Horcrux, not that we know what it is at the time, and get a touch of the tension between Dumbledore and pretty much all the other wizards in the world. Just like rereading each book I’m noticing the little bread crumb trail of clues J.K. is leaving for us, while rereading the series knowing the end I’m picking up on story lines that are actually longer than I realized. The last time I read them all I kind of felt there were moments that J.K. was just throwing stuff together as she went along, but maybe I was wrong about that.

Anyway, I don’t really have that much to say about this (I’m sure it’s all be said) but I do really, really like this quote:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (pg 245)

Isn’t that an awesome thing to tell children? Isn’t that an awesome thing to tell anyone really?

Okay, I’m off to enjoy how much it rained last night!

Last movie I watched: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. All I can say about Half Blood Prince at this moment is poor, poor, poor Snape. I kind of love him.

Last TV show I watched: The Listener. Again, Canadian show (I’ve only got two channels and they have to air a lot of Canadian content) but it was actually a pretty good episode. Lots of thinking, less mind reading. And it was filmed in my old neighbourhood. I miss my old neighbourhood.

Just like a band aid – read it fast and get it over with

The Ranger’s Apprentice Book 2 The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

I have been accused of being a literature snob. This post might, possibly, maybe re-enforce that accusation and I find this troubling. But not unfair.

I can’t remember exactly why I started reading the Ranger’s Apprentice books. My current theory involves a kid in the summer reading program telling me about one of them just as I was finishing my book. Whatever. I read it and I must have liked it because I actually bought the second one.

So the Rangers Apprentice is packed full of fantasy tropes. The biggest, most obvious one is that Will is an orphan boy who wants to be a knight, but he doesn’t get chosen by the Battleschool. Instead he gets picked up by an elusive, mysterious, cloaked dude called Halt. I like Halt. He’s my favourite. Halt is a Ranger – he ranges  around the kingdom with his super smart pony and a camouflage cloak and a bow to scout and spy and help the helpless, that kind of thing. And guess what? Will’s going to learn all these things too!

Okay, so the stories not exactly a new one but it’s a nice one. This book starts with Will leaving Halt to go with fellow Ranger and former Halt apprentice Gilan and his old rival-turned-best-friend Horace on a routine diplomatic mission. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t go well.

So here’s our nice, if generic story line. And it’s pretty good in a lot of ways. I mean, everyone knows that we don’t read serial fiction for the excitingly original story lines. We read them because they’re predictable and comforting and fun because we get to know what’s going on. Therefore I will not judge the story too much. It does all of those things, and it’s targeted at nine year old boys so it’s full of tropes that many nine year old boys probably really enjoy, like annoying people getting thrown in motes and lighting stuff of fire.

However, my literary snobbishness and also my believe that children are both capable of reading smart material and deserving of it really struggled with the writing of this book. So much so that I had to get a good roll going before I got so caught up in the story that the bad writing became funny instead of annoying. Then I really started to enjoy it.

There was just so much telling and so little showing! All my creative writing teachers would frown on this book.

Each character’s thoughts are described in a strangely omnipotent way, kind of like those scenes from That 70s Show where the camera circles around each character and we hear their thoughts and unfortunately they are almost never thoughts that couldn’t be gotten across with a few lines of description.

Instead of  something like “Halt listened to the birds as they rode. He almost asked Will to identify which bird it was when he remember that Will was miles away with Gilan” we get “Halt realized he missed Will more than he ever imagined he would.” Instead of something like “Evelyn rocked on her heels a few times before turning and sprinting towards Horace” we get “Eyelyn didn’t want to leave Will but she realized that his arguments did make the most sense so she did.” Is it too much to ask that we’re given a little credit for deducing these beloved characters moods and thoughts by their actions instead of because we’re told what their thinking every time things get complicated?

Unfortunately for me, and luckily for John Flanagan I suppose, the last fifty pages were really exciting. So I’m waiting for the next one to come to my library not because I’m that excited to read it but because I need to know that INSERT SPOILER HERE.

Maybe if I was a nine year old boy the writing of this book wouldn’t have bugged me so much but I’m not so I’ll probably continue to have mixed feelings about this book. Having said that, I’d still recommend it to boys who are looking for something with arrows and bad guys dying (in a non-gory, non-problematic way of course).

Last movie I watched: Well, I watched part of Despicable Me, which I love, but I fell asleep this time. The last complete movie I watched was Wall.E. All I have to say is “Ahhhhhhhhhhh”

Last TV episode I watched: Well, Crash Course World History again. Canada got mentioned! Which is always exciting. The last real TV episode was Saving Hope . Michael Shanks is kind of awesome.

Nostalgia

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

So in an attempt to cheer myself up by recalling a time when I loved being unemployed in my parents’ house all summer I picked up a copy of Harry Potter from the library. Even though I’ve probably read it at least 3 times somehow I still don’t actually own it. Sorry J.K.

It was as excellent as I remember it being. I now plan on reading the whole series again, but as previously mentioned I don’t own them and apparently my local library doesn’t have that many copies. It’s okay though because waiting on a hold list makes you enjoy the book more!

Of course, with my luck it will probably come in at the exact same time as Insurgent but anyway.

I guess a summary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a little unnecessary. Although nothing can replace the excitement of reading it for the first time, which was ruined for me anyway since I saw the first movie first, this is an excellent book to read twice, or four times in my case, because of the subtly of the story. I mean, did I notice the first time all the clues carefully laid out to help Harry, Ron and Hermione stumble to the Stone? I doubt it. But knowing how the story ended meant that every time she dropped a hint I got it and that was exciting. Also it made me feel smart, which is a thing that we talked a lot about when I was doing my undergrad degree, making the reader feel smart.

Okay, since this book is kind of iconic and well known to just about everyone I’m going to sit here and discuss whether or not it deserves to be, since there seems to have been some debate on this issue. Like the Hunger Games and Twilight and most best selling children’s lit, there always seems to be a few adults who complain that these books are not good enough for our children, that they’re not high enough quality or that they will fill little minds with dangerous or terrible ideas.

With Twilight, I happen to agree. I mean, Edward takes a piece out of Bella’s truck so she can’t go visit her other friends. How is that suppose to be seen as romantic instead of abusive?

But I did read the entire series and even enjoyed parts of them, when I was able to turn off the part of my brain that was horrified by the incredible imbalance of power in Edward and Bella’s relationship.

Anyway, Harry Potter. Without searching the internet for reasons why people think it’s bad for kids (again) I will just contradict the ones I remember from the last time I ran that Google search. One – that it’s not written very well.

To this I say: I was an English major. I have read a great number of the “classics” and enjoyed a higher percentage of them than the average person. Though they may be hailed as well written they are rarely easy to read. And that’s why no one does. So yes, Harry Potter isn’t exactly the kind of book that teaches you hilariously excellent words like “espacular” or contains so many inter textual references you have to have read an entire textbook of the classics to understand what just happened. On the other hand it’s fun to read. And I think that’s a good thing.

I’ve also heard that Harry Potter teaches kids that breaking rules is something to be admired and rewarded, among other things. Everyone was a child at one point so there’s really no excuses for assuming that somehow they don’t know the difference between a story and real life.

Plus, all good fiction lets us live lives we can’t or wouldn’t in some way or other. So run with it.

I also think I heard something somewhere about how it was sexist too. I proudly identify as a feminist but I don’t see that one. The hero is a boy that’s true, Hermione may technically be a sidekick but in my mind she is a truly excellent sidekick and a very genuine, female character. And there are loads of other strong, awesome or neat women characters. Lily Potter anyone? You don’t think dying to save your child could be considered the trait of a strong woman? Or really, just a strong person? ‘Cause I do.

Either way Hermione and Ginny are both way cooler than Bella.

Anyway, so Harry Potter is awesome. I want to be a wizard, probably more now than I did the last time I read it. And I’m looking forward to getting to the thicker, scarier ones with my more adult perceptions.

Should be good.

Last movie I watched: Oh God, I think it was the last Children of Dune movie. Again. Don’t judge!! It’s my favourite of them all. When Leto comes back to Ghanima – anyway, it’s awesome. I’ll watch something better soon.

Last TV show I watched: Saving Hope technically.

But I’d rather talk about Crash Course World History instead. This is because Crash Course World History is my new favourite thing! Other than chai lattes but there’s not that much to say about those.

Crash Course World History is a youtube series that comes out on Thursdays. It’s narrated by an awesome author/professional youtube blogger guy called John Green. This week it was about the Spanish Empire and the silver trade. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge nerd and just really love history, particularly an intelligent, complex reading of it but I thought it was awesome!!

Here (if you want): http://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse  

Dystopian future, first person narrative and a kick ass heroine

Divergent by Veronica Roth

First of all, I just need to get it out of the way that I’m crazy jealous that this woman finished a degree in creative writing and then just went out and wrote a book. But it’s a really good book so I’m going to overlook that.

Divergent is the story of a sixteen year old girl named Beatrice. In this future everyone belongs to a faction – which is essentially a Hogwarts house but for the entire society. Each faction values a trait they feel could prevent the destruction of the world. When you turn sixteen in this world you choose or are confirmed into a faction, partly based on the results of a high tech personality test and partly by choice. Beatrice is born in Abnegation, the faction that values selflessness above everything else, even self preservation, but she’s never felt she was quite – well selfless enough to fit in with her family so when it’s her turn to choose an awesome narrative is started.

Like all really excellent literature for children and teens (this one’s firmly in the teens category) there are some pretty big, serious questions in this book. Questions about what motivates people to be good and bad, even whether virtues, or at least character traits traditionally defined as virtues, are always positive, or if they’re like most things – helpful in the hands of one person and destructive in the hands of another. Questions like how can we understand human cruelty? Suicide? Child abuse? Our own fears? What drives us to love and be selfless? How much choice do we really have and how much of ourselves do we inherit from our families? What does it mean to belong? You know, those kinds of questions.

Of course, they’re asked very subtly because it’s an awesome book and books that are clearly didactic rarely are awesome. They’re bundled up in a story that’s also very personal. The first person present narrative can be heart wrenching and it certainly helps when sympathizing with the main character as well as adding a sense of urgency that runs through the whole story. Beatrice is definitely easy to relate to since she struggles with her own identity and feelings versus her upbringing, the expectations of her factions and fear – things that teenagers, and I suspect all adults, if we’re being totally honest, struggle with. The supporting characters are carefully developed to have maximum impact when they’re all killed (that’s only half true but there is a high death rate in this book) and Beatrice’s experiences are pretty emotional.

Well worth the read.

Divergent is being compared to the Hunger Games, mostly I think because of the similarities listed in the title of this post. There are also some pretty similar plot points (not to be discussed because of the enormous spoiler potential). This is a fair comparison and people who enjoyed the Hunger Games will probably also enjoy Divergent. But I refuse to make a definitive claim about which on is better until I’ve read the entire Divergent series which won’t be for a while since I don’t think the last one has been published yet and even then I doubt I’ll do it.

So, to sum up. Divergent awesome. Everyone should read it.

Last movie I watched: The first one in the Children of Dune made for TV movie series. Don’t judge. I think it’s awesome. And not just ’cause James Mcavoy is in it. For loads of other reasons too. Mostly to do with the sheer epic-ness of the world Frank Herbert created when he made Dune. And it’s way better than the TV movies of the original book. Just sayin’

Last episode of TV I watched: Saving Hope. Why did I watch Saving Hope? Because it has an awesome cast and is Canadian. I like to watch Canadian things. One day, if enough people adapt this attitude we might even start producing really good Canadian TV. Anyway, the story of Saving Hope isn’t that lame either. I enjoyed it.