Special Guest Post from SJ Over at Snobbery!

A while back, SJ over at Snobbery won a contest here on Sappho’s Torque, and  her reward was to have a guest blogger spot.  This week we’re featuring her post, a book review of a novel my rising-9th-grade niece is currently enjoying.  I hope you enjoy her review!  Be sure to check SJ out on her blog and on Twitter and on Facebook.  Super delightful stuff.

And just as a quick reminder, you still have four days left to enter the Chindogu Challenge.

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book cover photo borrowed respectfully from Goodreads

Recently I read Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – I know, I know, just the name is a mouthful, right? – a book I fully expected to love.

Did I love it?

Yes…ish.

Look, I loved the IDEA behind this book, but I felt it was a little lacking in execution.  I was expecting something of a faerie tale version of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always (which I have read and re-read because it succeeds where I think this book fails) – a book for younger readers (if I MUST pin a YA label on it, I will) that parents and adults can enjoy as well.

What I found, though, was a book that read as if it were geared towards adults either attempting to regain that childlike sense of whimsy, or reminisce about those fantastic books they read as children.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot about this book that I think was done right – but I can’t imagine any children I know being particularly interested in it.  I know (for example) that if I handed this book to my almost 13-year-old (who loves faerie stories, btw – he’s my son, after all), he would probably read about 10 pages before handing it back to me and saying, “Nah.  Can I go read some more Barsoom?”  …or A Series of Unfortunate Events, or The Looking Glass Wars, or whatever else it is that he’s into at that point in time.

This is a book that is marketed as being for children, but when I read it, it seemed like it was clearly written for adults.

That bothered me, and is why I have to append the “ish” to my answer of whether I liked it or not.

What did I love?

Well, that’s a lot more fun to talk about!

First of all, there are some absolutely delightful illustrations by Spanish artist Ana Juan, they were a lot of fun to come across, and each one made me smile.

The fantastic characters we meet in Fairyland were wonderfully realized.  I cared about them all, especially the Wyverary.

What’s a Wyverary?  Simple!  It’s a wyvern whose father was a library!

Look! A Wyverary! (image respectfully borrowed from Amazon)

I appreciated the slightly dense/flowery prose, but that’s another reason I think younger readers might have problems with it.  It really read like it was a faerie story I would have enjoyed when I was younger, but it was a little…more, I think.  Like I said – some adults will squeal over it, but children will probably just stare blankly.

Final verdict?  If you’re an adult that still loves faerie tales, this book will probably scratch an itch you didn’t even know you had.  If you’re not…you should probably skip it, as you’ll likely find it a bit too twee.

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The Sky Mall Catalog (Or, My Weird Flying Ritual Has Been Overtaken By Utterly Useless Rubbish)

I despise air travel.

I appreciate the relative convenience and speed, but honestly, flying freaks me out. Someone who has lived most of her life inside her imagination should not be allowed to consider what-if scenarios, but I do, and so every minor, imagined anomaly is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s wearing on my nerves. Add to that the descending slope of quality in the general air travel experience, and it takes something I want really, really badly to get me on an airplane.

I traveled recently to the west coast for a little vacation with my sister to see some friends and to go to this amazing costume ball in Los Angeles.  Super fun, I love LA, I love my sister, it takes too long to drive, yadda yadda I got on an airplane.

Continue reading “The Sky Mall Catalog (Or, My Weird Flying Ritual Has Been Overtaken By Utterly Useless Rubbish)”

Meet My Seven-Year-Old Daughter, the Orange-Belt Fairy Princess Badass

So when school let out a few weeks ago, my daughter’s Tae Kwon Do class had their promotion tests, but she missed it because she was home from school that day, sick with a fever. I could go into the details of how we had to go repeatedly back and forth to find a time when she could make up her test, but honestly, they’re not very interesting. Suffice it to say, it took a while, and she ended up having to crash a summer camp session at another school to do her test at the beginning of their class, or else just not be able to move past her white belt. And although she tried out Tae Kwon Do for a semester and liked it well enough, she’s thinks (at this moment, at least) that she’s ready to go back to ballet when school starts up again in the fall. We didn’t want her to have gone through a whole semester of martial arts and not get her belt promotion (i.e., closure), so we made the effort and got ready for the test today.

Now, when I say “got ready,” this primarily consisted of my reminding her every day this week to practice her moves so she could pass her test. We were going to have five minutes at the start of the summer camp class for her to accomplish it, and then leave. Win win for everyone, assuming she would pass.

Unfortunately, explaining the logistics of it to her made her a wee bit nervous. “Practicing” meant she would perform a single kick of some indeterminate sort, and then get distracted by wrackspurts or something and wander off to pick gurdyroots. In other words, no actual practice was happening. Well, fine, I thought, she’s seven years old and needs to understand why practicing something you want to do well at is important, and after all the stakes here aren’t particularly high and it’s a good lesson to learn on blah blah blah. So I didn’t push.

Well, we get to the camp today and get her changed into her gi, which is white and made of cotton. My daughter is growing so quickly, and the white cotton gi had to be washed in hot water with bleach every week this semester because just looking at it funny would make it filthy, and — you do the math. The pants are a couple of inches too short. And we hadn’t put her hair up this morning before she went to her camp (which is for Creative Writing, by the way, nothing physically athletic*), because she likes to wear it down. I offer to put it up for her before her test, but she isn’t interested.

So see if you can get a mental image: my petite, snaggle-toothed daughter (she is seven, after all, which is going into the prime of her tooth-losing years), in her slightly too-short gi and white belt, turquoise and purple glasses atop her nose (the ones with the colorful flowers etched along the arms), her long brown hair in piece-y straight tufts, barefoot with bright pink sparkly toenails…

…walks into a very large, unfamiliar room, greets her coach, then goes to sit down on the floor along the edge of the wall all by herself while the kids from the camp mob into the room for their class.  They are all bigger and older and blonde and tan, wearing shorts and t-shirts from their various camps with their rainbow of brightly colored belts that indicate they have been doing this a lot longer than she has.

My daughter stands out.

She looks at them. They look at her. They all loudly ask their coach who she is, then run to sit on the floor against the wall. From her perspective, they appear to be charging toward her en masse. She looks at me, no longer smiling or even a little excited. The terror in her face is masked only by her long hair falling into it, but I can see that anxiety, because I am still that frightened little girl sometimes in my nightmares, the ones where I have to play the piano in front of a huge audience (like The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson years) and haven’t practiced in, oh, about three decades and all I can manage to eke out is much-too-fast version of Bach’s “Minuet in G Major.” You know that dream? Surely you know that dream.

My daughter is sitting on the end of the row. The little boy next to her, scrubbed clean and buzz-cut, looking like he’s been on a beach the last couple of weeks, just stares at her. She stares back at him for a moment and then folds her arms and legs around herself and pokes her gaze out to me. I nod encouragingly.

The kid asks the coach, “Does she know ninja drills?”

Ninja drills? What?? I think, Uh-oh, she doesn’t know what that is, this is going to make her even more nervous —

“Yes,” the coach answers, “she knows ninja drills.”

Oh? That’s interesting. I wonder what those are…

Class begins, and my daughter dutifully stands and bows to her coach, just like everyone else. All of them, my daughter included, head for the punching bag stands and start their drills. All these other kids are tearing it up with their side chops and roundhouse kicks and neck freezes or whatever other Vulcan death moves they’re doing. They’re shouting hi-ya! like berserkers.

My daughter is pushing at the bag, gently, you know, so as not to hurt it.

Her coach comes over and she tells him she’s nervous. He pats her shoulder reassuringly and reminds her of each move she needs to execute. While the others are warming up, she’s going to have her test. It takes her a couple of tries to get back into the swing of things, I suppose, but then she’s beating the snot out of that punching bag, shouting hi-ya! like the best of them! She chops, she slashes, she kicks, she punches, she elbows, she turns around and beats the thing up behind her back. She has gone, in five minutes, from trembling mermaid and unicorn aficionado to a freakin’ Power Puff Girl Rage Monster. Her coach smiles proudly, but in a relaxed way, you know, like he expected nothing else.

I’m grinning so wide I think I just might cry.

She finishes all the rest of the drills really well, and then the main event arrives. Everyone goes back to sitting along the edge of the wall, and this time my daughter doesn’t look so scared. The other kids are still eying her a little skeptically, but she just pushes her hair out of her eyes, lifts her chin up, and gives me a happy thumbs-up.

The coach brings her back up to the middle of the room. Everyone else is silent. It is time for her to Break The Board. When the other kids see the board set up, a couple begin stage-whispering about whether she can do it or not. She appears to ignore them. The coach asks whether she’s ready, and she nods her head, beaming.

She composes herself quickly, centering, taking a deep breath. Then she lifts her bare foot and brings it crashing down on that board. Hi-ya! It makes a crack as it splits in half and then clatters to the floor below. She stares at the thing in shock, the other kids forgotten. She picks up the pieces of the board and runs over to me, shouting, “I broke the board! I broke the board! Oh my gosh I can’t believe I broke the board!!”

I don’t know who’s beaming more, me, the coach, or her. He calls her back over and presents her with her orange belt, and she skips happily toward me, exclaiming that she’s so proud of herself.

Of course I’m proud of her, too, and I tell her that. We exit the room — her: skipping, hair swinging back and forth down her back — fragments of board and orange belt in hand.

Time to go to lunch with my Fairy Princess Badass.

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*  I’d like to point out also that my daughter chose to do Creative Writing camp on her own. I didn’t make her do it. And she’s loving every minute! I am so proud.

Academic Calendar Conditioning (and a Reminder)

So I’ve been on the schedule of a typical academic calendar for thirty-five years now, nonstop.  My husband assures me that this consistency is the reason for the reinforcement of my periodic stress.  In other words, I’m conditioned to be overworked and therefore stressed out beyond reason from about the end of April through Memorial Day.

I cannot argue with his logic.  Especially not right now, when I’m in the middle of the busiest two weeks of the school year.  I would argue, but frankly, I don’t have time.  There’s a stack of papers nine inches tall waiting to be graded, and I haven’t even given my final exam yet.

There are other times during the year when I am similarly busy and stressed out.  However, between Thanksgiving and December finals I’m too happy about the holiday season to worry about it much.  Then, I’m blissfully able to remind myself that being behind at school is always a finite problem:  the semester always ends, and by hook or by crook, report cards go out, and then I’m done.  But right now, the summer break, when I can devote myself more fully to my writing, is so close that all I can think of is how burnt out I feel every time I sit down to work.  The glorious weather and the wall of windows in my classroom that look out onto a lovely courtyard do not help.  (My friend Amber, who used to teach at UC Santa Barbara, could see the Pacific Ocean from her office window.  That would be worse, I think, but only for my work ethic.)

I used to have insomnia the beginning of August every year, from the time I began teaching until the time my daughter was born.  (Then I didn’t have the insomnia because I was just so damn tired all the time I couldn’t possibly have trouble falling asleep.  Not at any time, not in any place.)  A lot of my colleagues experience this also, the inability to sleep well (or, in some cases, at all), for about two weeks before the school year begins.  I suppose we should all count ourselves lucky that we care so much about teaching that we worry whether we will do it well enough.  I will say that my colleagues continually inspire me with their energy, talent, and devotion to their students’ success.  As teaching careers go, I’m at what Bull Durham would call “the show.”  And I’m grateful for that.

But this means that for a while a few times a year, the other stuff I do suffers a bit.  For example, my blog.  Let’s just call this post a long-winded apology for not a lot of substantive sharing lately.  It’s not that interesting and important things haven’t been happening.  They have.  I’ve even had a few episodes of mildly worthwhile introspection about them.  But since Easter, it’s been a maelstrom around here.  Yes, work has been busy.  Yes, my daughter turned seven.  Yes, my writing has been doing interesting stuff.  But also, people have died.

Some of all that I may blog about this summer; I don’t know.  I am fairly certain, however, that I will write much more substantial things for you, dear readers, more often than I have the last several weeks.  I appreciate that you’ve stuck with me thus far.

I’ll be done with this school year by the end of May.  I’ll still have school work to do over the summer, of course — the idea that teachers don’t have to work during the break is a damaging myth worthy of Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” — but my time will be more my own and less frenetic.  Or at least that’s the plan.

Until then, go on and vote in my poll from last week.  You know, the one about The Silliest Thing You’ve Ever Heard.  Tell everyone you know to vote also.  Do it before tomorrow, when voting will close.  I can’t wait to find out who the winner is, especially since at the moment there is a three-way tie for first place.

And as for all the rest, thanks for hanging in there with me.  All the best.