Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book List 2011: Part 7

And here it is: the exciting conclusion to Book List 2011!

Cinderella Ate My Daughter:
Dispatches From the Front Lines of the new Girlie-Girl Culture
by. Peggy Orenstein

A look into the Pretty Pink Princess world that young girls have to grow up in. Where did it come from and what effects does it have?

I read this book on a whim of curiosity and I was pleasantly surprised. It really is quite fascinating and raises a lot of ideas that I never thought about before. However, it does have its problems. For instance the author occasionally goes into bouts of what I like to call "Feminist Bloodlust": where a feminist rage clouds a person's vision and only allows them to see ideas that fits a feminist argument. For instance she insulted Pixar for only having movies starring men, but praised Miyazaki for always making movies starring girls. She even went as far as to attack Pixar's newest movie Brave. That's right, she decided to attack a movie that isn't even out yet based on preliminary sketches and plot outlines...I mean if that isn't a prefect example of Feminist Bloodlust then I don't know what is.

But overall I found the book very interesting. It really does a great job at bringing the world that young girls are being raised in into the light and expounding on where this world came from. I never really considered where the obsession with princesses and pink came from, but I'm glad I did because it seems that it has all come from marketing. Which is quite frightening when you think about it. Marketing can ingrain ideas so deep that people just think they're natural inclinations. For instance the color pink. I've heard people say that girls are just naturally attracted to pink. But that isn't true. In fact pink used to be a boys' color. Think about that.

        Girls' attention to pink may seem unavoidable, somehow encoded in their DNA, but according to Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, it's not. Children weren't color-coded at all until the early twentieth century: in the era before Maytag, all babies wore white as a practical matter, since the only way of getting clothes clean was to boil them. What's more, both boys and girls wore what were thought of as gender-neutral dresses. When nursery colors were introduced, pink was actually considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red, which was associated with strength. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness, symbolized femininity. (That may explain a portrait that has always befuddled me, of my father as an infant in 1926 wearing a pink dress.) Why or when that switched is not clear, but as late as the 1930s, in a poll of its customers conducted by the New York City department store Lord & Taylor, a solid quarter of adults still held to that split. I doubt anyone would get it "wrong" today. Perhaps that is why so many early Disney heroines—Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Wendy, Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppin's Jane Banks—were dressed in various shades of azure. (When the company introduced the Princess line, it deliberately changed Sleeping Beauty's gown to pink, supposedly to distinguish her from Cinderella.) It was not until the mid-1980s, when amplifying age and sex differences became a dominant children's marketing strategy, that pink fully came into its own, when it began to seem innately attractive to girls, part of what defined them as female, at least for the first few critical years.

The Night Eternal
by. Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The last book of The Strain Trilogy.

I've mentioned the other books of this trilogy in past lists. And as it is the third book I can't really tell you anything about it specifically without ruining important plot elements. But I can now speak of the trilogy in general and tell you that it is a great trilogy. It works with the idea of vampires in a way I've never seen done before. It creates a look and feel to them that is unique and fascinating; taking the familiar ideas we've seen a million times before and reworking them into something new and interesting.

If you recall I said that the main problem with The Hunger Games was that the author couldn't write a fight scene to save her live. Well she should ask Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro for some tips. This duo is able to create not only create truly memorable visuals, but also plenty of intense battles.

        Snorting, huffing, the beasts came back, leaving behind the poised erect stance and landing on all fours, ready to circle their prey. Eph did not give the vampires a chance to flank him. He rushed straight at the male first, both swords at the ready. The vamp leaped away from him at the last moment—they were agile and fast—but not before Eph's sword tip caught it across the side of its torso. The slash was deep enough to make the vampire land off-balance, the wound was leaking white blood. Strigoi rarely felt any bodily pain, but they felt it when the weapon was silver. The creature twisted and gripped its side.

        In that moment of hesitation and inattention, Eph spun and brought his other sword across at shoulder height. One slice removed the head from the neck and shoulders, severing it just beneath the jaw. The vampire's arms went up in a reflex of self-protection before its trunk and limbs collapsed.

        Eph turned again just as the female was in the air. It had vaulted the counter, springing at him with its twin taloned middle fingers poised to cut at his face—but Eph was just able to deflect its arms with his own as the vampire flew past, landing hard against the wall, slumping to the floor. Eph lost both his swords in the process. His hands were so weak. Oh, yes, yes, please—I want to give up.

        The strigoi quickly sprang onto all fours, facing Eph from a crouch. Its eyes bore into him, surrogates of the Master, the evil presence that had taken everything from him. Eph's rage flared anew. He swiftly produced his grappling hooks and braced for impact. The vampire charged and Eph went for it—the vampire wattle dangling beneath its chin made for a perfect target. He had done this move hundreds of times—like a worker in a fish factory scaling a big tuna. One hook connected with the throat behind the wattle, sinking quickly and jamming behind the cartilaginous tube that housed the larynx and launched the stinger. Pulling down on it—hard—he blocked the stinger and forced the creature to genuflect with a pig-like squeal. The other hook connected to the eye socket, and Eph's thumb jammed under the jaw, locking the mouth shut. One summer, a long, long time ago, his father had shown him that move when catching snakes on a small river up north. Clamp the jaw," he had said, "lock the mouth—so they can't bite." Not many snakes were poisonous but a lot of them had a nasty bite and enough bacteria in their mouth to cause a lot of pain. Turned out that Eph—city boy Eph—was good at catching snakes. A natural. He had been able to show off one good day, catching a snake in the driveway at home when Zack was still a child. He felt superior—a hero. But that was a long time ago. A zillion years BC.

I Found This Funny:
My Favorite Pieces of Humor
and some that may not be funny at all
edited by. Judd Apatow

A collection of essays that were selected and arranged by Judd Apatow.

Oh, collections. They are always a mixed bag aren't they? I was looking for a collection of humorous writing, but a fair amount of stuff in this book isn't really funny at all. I realize that this is mentioned in the title, but I didn't realize the extent to which they were talking about. Overall it wasn't really my kind of thing, but I must admit that there are a couple great gems in there. If nothing else Conan O'Brien & Robert Smigel's Lookwell pilot, Tony Hoagland's poems, David Sedaris' essay "Go Carolina", and the selected shorts from Simon Rich made it worth my time.

Actually, if you happen to see this in a book store I would recommend picking it up to read the Simon Rich ones. They are short enough that you can read them real quick and they are hilarious.

        I don't remember how I learned to read. Who taught me to read? Was it my mother? We always had a lot of books around. Dr. Seuss, Curious George. That book about the strange animal with the spots he could take off and juggle. Lately I have been teaching my seven-year-old daughter how to read and it is hard. Someone must have put some serious hours in with me. I wish I remembered any of those moments. It must have been my mom and not some faceless Montessori teacher. I'll go with Mom. For some reason I think I picked it up really fast because if it was a long difficult road I feel like I would remember that.

        I say that because my adult reading life has not been a long easy road. It took a long time before I got excited about literature and reading in general...


        ...This book contains my recommendations. It mainly focuses on what I am most interested in—humor. But several of the pieces are not at all funny, but I could not resist putting them in because they mean so much to me.

        I made a point of including writing from all disciplines—short stories, poetry, essays, humor writing, journalism, memoir, cartoons, sketches, and even television pilots. I think it's the ultimate airplane book, bathroom book, or what one reads while waiting for a friend to come out of an appointment that you have no interest in.

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