Tuesday, April 6, 2021

National Library Week 2021

April 5 through April 10 is National Library Week!


Take the time to visit a library - PLEASE WEAR A MASK INSIDE A LIBRARY AT ALL TIMES - and check out what you like - BOOKS ARE GOOD, WE GOT A BUNCH ON HAND - and support literacy and community resources to the full - WE MIGHT BE NEAR DOG PARKS, YOU NEVER KNOW.

In the meantime, see if you can spot a fool in this crowd:

I know I overdo the arched eyebrow thingee

NOW GO READ! We'll see you in the summer when our family events take place.


 

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Lifetime of Writing For Children, Who Became All Of Us: Beverly Cleary Wrote For Us

This is the kind of news a librarian and childhood reader does not want to hear. Beloved writer Beverly Cleary finally passed away this weekend (via Zoe Chace at NPR): 

Children's author Beverly Cleary died Thursday in Carmel, Calif., her publisher HarperCollins said. She was 104 years old. Cleary was the creator of some of the most authentic characters in children's literature — Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse and the irascible Ramona Quimby.

Generations of readers tore around the playground, learned to write in cursive, rebelled against tuna fish sandwiches and acquired all the glorious scrapes and bruises of childhood right along with Ramona...

Her writing style — clear, direct, uncomplicated — mirrored the author's own trajectory. Cleary was still a young girl when she decided to become a children's book author. By the 1940s she'd become a children's librarian in Portland, Ore., and she remembered boys in particular would ask her: "Where are the books about kids like us?"

There weren't any, so she sat down and wrote Henry Huggins, her first book about a regular little boy on Klickitat Street in Portland. Henry Huggins was a hit upon first printing, but her readers wanted to hear more about the little girl who lived just up the street.

Ramona Quimby, the most famous of all of Cleary's characters, was unforgettable. Mischievous, spunky and a hater of spelling, Ramona would be the first to tell you she's not a pest — no matter what anyone (especially her older sister Beezus) says...

I read Cleary as a youth, around seven or eight years old, after my family moved to Florida and we went to Dunedin Public Library pretty much once every week. It started with Henry Huggins but moved onto Ramona where even as a boy reader the angst and issues for girl characters echoed a lot of the drama and anxiety of childhood itself.

Along with Judy Blume - with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing anchoring the Fudge series - Cleary was one of the few authors I read who seemed to write FOR children, not to us (in terms of lecturing and preaching). The moral life lessons of her works - in the Ramona series, often odes to the strengths of family and sisterhood - offered in subtle yet recognizable moments.

I think I quoted on this before, but let me quote here from Kate Dries at Jezebel about Cleary's importance and influence:

As an adult, I remember far more of Cleary’s descriptions of the life that influenced her children’s books than the actual fiction she wrote—stories about how she hates the taste of almond extract because it’s all they had to make desserts with during the Depression, or how eating a whole avocado every day from the tree outside her window in college caused her weight to bloom, or what she and her friends asked of each other’s clothes during the lean years: “Is it new, or new to you?”

Cleary’s writing is always matter-of-fact, observant without being unkind. In her limited first-person work, she’s evaluative of herself perhaps more than anyone else, and she allows certain undertones that are mostly absent from her children’s books to creep in...

Remember, as Cleary does, it would be years before “the labels ‘teenager’ and ‘young adult’” would even be used regularly. Back then, to look at young people this way, you had to be extraordinarily interested in understanding the emotional states of an age group that was almost always overlooked. Cleary did; she had a firm grasp of the reality that children have complex inner lives, and this sensibility made her books break through...

That emphasis on writing simply and about life’s minutiae explains why Cleary’s fictionalization of her normal if sometimes difficult life has been so embraced. “For years I avoided writing description, and children told me they liked my books, ‘because there isn’t any description in them,’” she said of her simple style, influenced (perhaps negatively in her mind, though not in anyone else’s) by a teacher who was overzealous with the red pen early on. Her characters are flawed but not overly dramatic: average, but interesting because of it, you might say (or in other words, realistic). Upon reading her memoirs, you can see the specific and broad bits of real life Cleary did use in her books—the “Smells to Heaven” casserole that her friend’s mother served that Jane won’t eat before a date in Fifteen for fear she’ll ruin her breath, or the comfortable home she didn’t have growing up run by Bernadette’s less-involved mother in Mitch and Amy...

Cleary described how her writing mentor encouraged her to pursue writing about 'the universal human experience,' the shared hopes and despairs that we all feel when we're young and curious and worried and envious and learning how to cope. As a writer herself, she gave us characters and stories that showed us how to cope, and we all grew up under her care.

She is one of the reasons I enjoyed visiting libraries. It wasn't until I was a librarian myself in my 30s when I found out Cleary was a children's librarian from Yakima WA when she started writing her stories for her youthful patrons.

Cleary should have won a Nobel Prize for Literature, goddammit.

I am deep in mourning tonight. My childhood physically ended a long time ago, but emotionally and spiritually that childhood stayed with me. A part of that is gone now.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Pi Day 2021

This is the perfect year to celebrate the circumference of PIE.


 I normally don't post political stuff on THIS blog - I do it on the other one - but if Joe Biden wants to go down in history in the Top Ten Greatest Presidents of ALL TIME, he'd better fight to make March 14 an official national holiday.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Getting Accepted for the Next Strangely Funny Anthology

Good news, people! A short story submission to the Strangely Funny anthology series has been accepted for 2021!

It's a 2020 story based on MURDER HORNETS. It might be the scariest story I've ever wrote.


LOOK AT THAT FACE!

The face of a Murder Hornet means business. And that business is MURDER. AAAAAAIIIEEEEEE.

Future updates on when and where the eighth anthology crops up are forthcoming.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Another Big Birthday for a Big Panfurr: Mal the Krazy Kat!

You might remember the story of how Ocean the Wiggle Cat decided the Fourth Quarter blowout of Seattle over Denver in the Super Bowl was the best time to give birth, and how it ended up with three six tiny little kittehs entering the world! 

Of those tiny kittehs, one remained with me, Mal the Krazy Kat, a mighty Pan-Furr (play on panther) of the house. And a big one too, he's two armfuls to hold!

Here I am trying to talk to Mal to stop him from abusing my face (ow ow ow):


See how mean he is to me?!

Sigh.

Never mind, I snacked him today for his birthday! This makes him... 7 years old now. Time flies when you're wagging that tail.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

You Know The Drill: 2021 Writing Projects

Above all, GET SOMETHING PUBLISHED!

Write

Write

Write!

Get a story submitted to the Florida Writers Association's annual anthology!

Get that damn NaNo novel finished!

Clean up your bookshelves!

Wait that's not writing, that's deflection.

Still, it's seven years of dust on that thing, GET IT CLEAN!

Sigh.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Witty's Year End Book Review 2020

You might think with a year-long pandemic - things at the library quieted down right quick by late January - I would find more time to read. Also, that my early year surgery that forced me to stay home for most of a month would leave me with that kind of time as well. Sad to note: the level of anxiety and stress in the midst of all that kind of reduced my reading habits this year. It wasn't I did not have the time - no longer wasting weekends at the movies, for one - it was that I lost a lot of focus to read. I'm sorry.

I did read *some* this year, and so in that regards I will list what I read as suggested reads to pass along to the seven people who follow this blog, thank ye. It's just... honestly? This wasn't a competitive year...

Best Fiction

My rules on what I like each year isn't that the work HAS to be from this year - I do try - sometimes it's an older published work I re-visit that regains my interest. That said:

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett

Another of the Discworld books I've become fond of, this is one of the later works where Pratchett's world-building - especially the fantastic politics of the various nation-states engaged in border clashes - expands to make it a more realized realm. On Discworld, the Narrative matters and the Gods are real. The problem with the small nation of (looks it up) Borogravia is that their god Nuggan has gone mad, been mad for ages, and His insane proclamations have weakened the faith of the population, which still has to abide against his Abominations. It's led to a state of constant war with neighboring kingdoms, which has also led to the literal depletion of Borogravia's manpower... to the point where the young women are signing up for the latest war in order to get into (or out of) conflict to rescue their loved ones. Or so it seems.

Playing on the trope of Sweet Polly Oliver - with an actual Polly (this is how Discworld rolls, son) as the protagonist - the main characters find themselves the last standing military unit against Zlobenia. Relying on the military tropes as both parody and metaphor, the lads (or ladettes, however the case may be) must rely on their innate skills - vampire, troll, Igor, Joan of Archetype, what have you... just not their feminine ones, which becomes a plot point later - to break the cycle of madness (and free a soul they don't realize has been trapped by faith) and end the war. 

Where the book excels is Pratchett's subtle yet elaborate wordplay, and his willingness to tweak tropes for all they're worth. For example the vampire Maladict (whom Polly thinks is the only real man in her regiment) had traded out the addiction for blood to an addiction for coffee (the mainstay of any marching army, what what). When one of the bad guys (yes, he's a guy) steals the regiment's supply, it forces Maladict into withdrawal mode, mimicking the shell-shocked Vietnam trooper with increasingly powerful hallucinations that Maladict can broadcast. It's in this confused state that Polly herself can imagine "Copters in the LZ" even though she has no idea what a 'Copter or an LZ is. It also allows her to hallucinate walking with Death (yes, he's a Reaper Man) because after all every soldier walks with Death (plus he's contractually obligated to appear in every Discworld story). It's just that Polly's the only one on Discworld who told Death to keep quiet while they walked.

It's not one of Pratchett's best Discworld novels (Small Gods, Guards Guards, and Hogfather are far superior works) but it's an enjoyable read that's easy to get into even if you're not a hardcore reader of the series.

Dishonorable Mention: The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

I'm sorry, but... I tried, I really tried to read a number of these books about an ex-military MP who walks the Earth getting into violent adventures. But it's just... almost all the same damn thing. He shows up, gets into fights with the locals, uncovers a conspiracy, occasionally has sex with a woman tangibly involved in the matter, wipes out the big bad's merc army in a gunfight, sometimes heads off in an epilogue to take out a corrupt government official who violated the oath of service to America, and goes wandering off to the next book. Half the dialog isn't dialog it's just the narrator writing "(This character) said nothing." I guess it's like Mac and Cheese for a large number of readers, but it's just overheated Revenge Porn. The Punisher does it better, dammit.

Best Non-Fiction

Very Stable Genius, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

If you follow me on my political blog, you might notice I am not a fan of donald trump (I refuse to capitalize his name as English grammar requires. The SOB obsesses over his name's presentation and the smaller I can make it the better).

So a lot of non-fiction I've been reading the past four years have been "What The Hell Happened" history/political science books focusing on the disaster that has been the trump Administration. Very Stable Genius is coming towards the end of trump's one-term tenure, and it looks back at all of the chaos and damage that occurred. Most telling is the ninth chapter where Rucker and Leonnig detail how - in an attempt by the Defense and State Departments to explain to trump just what is actually happening in the world - trump hijacked the meeting to spew his unfounded diatribes about our foreign allies, which all ended with trump - a draft-dodging self-obsessed whiner - insulting military officials to their faces:

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn't taking many breaths... "I wouldn't go to war with you people," Trump told the assembled brass. Addressing the room, the commander-in-chief barked, "You're a bunch of dopes and babies." For a President known for verbiage he euphemistically called "locker room talk," this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred place. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room..." (p. 136)

You might notice the book's title - trump's own words describing himself (like 74 percent of anything he says, it's a lie) - is a sharp rebuke: Everything in the pages details how trump is an unstable, self-absorbed fool. And it's someone who was put in charge of the United States for four painful years.

There's going to be a lot of books written about this era. Rucker and Leonnig's book should be one of the first ones to reach for.

Runner-up: The Public And Its Problems, by John Dewey

As part of my efforts to keep up with Pragmatism as a philosophy, especially with an eye towards promoting it as a political philosophy to counter the darker (cough Randian Objectivist cough) ideologies consuming our nation. I'm still re-reading it to see what I can translate into modern world-view explanation.

Best Graphic Novel (or Ongoing Series)

Wonder Woman: Dead Earth (Black Label), by Daniel Johnson

Part of DC Comics' efforts to re-imagine their main characters with edgier, more mature stories, the Black Label brand includes this retelling of Wonder Woman in a post-apocalyptic future where she emerges to find her attempts to save the World of Men had failed. Worse, the nuclear war that consumed the planet had turned her paradise into a monstrous realm that has abandoned any hope of peace at all.

In the same narrative take as Sejic's dark vision on Harleen, Johnson as writer/artist employs a stark and harsh art style similar in my mind to Frank Miller's work. It's the first time I've seen his artwork and I am impressed by it. I am going to keep an eye out for future works. 

Runner-up: Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh

It took about 7 years, but Brosh returned with a follow-up to her Hyperbole And a Half with another essay-styled series of comics about the everyday dramas of coping with the world. Where the earlier book's artwork was crudely pixelated work (the strength of the stories is Brosh's writing and observations), the new work is cleaner, sharper in tone as the writing itself gets sharper with experience.

Best Work by Someone I Email, Tweet, or Chat With on a Regular Basis 

The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi

Keeping up with Scalzi's Interdependency trilogy, which I started reading back in 2017 with The Collapsing Empire, the third and final volume focuses on the eventual collapse of a naturally-occurring hyperspace system (The Flow) and how it affects a galactic-wide human empire suddenly forced to find other ways to survive.

Intermixed with the efforts to discover the new portals to a shifting Flow network, Scalzi's main characters have to contend with the political backstabbing of an empire still driven by intrigue and ambition, where the bad guys from the first two novels have succeeded in seizing control of the one planet (End, literally at the end of the Flow) that has a sustainable human environment and are gathering the other Houses to overthrow Empress (well, Emperox to avoid the gender bias) Grayland and condemn billions of humans who need to reach End.

Some of the characters - including the villains - remain rather predictable playing out their roles in a Space Opera environs (did one of the baddies twirl a mustache at one point?). Scalzi still crafts a believable 'Verse with relatable characters and satisfying plot twists. There's no new ground really broken here - the themes of humanity, futurism, our relationship to the environment, these are all regular tropes of most science fiction - but it's a story well-told. 

Expect the SyFy miniseries in the next two-three years.

Best Work Including Stuff I Wrote

I did not get published this year, alas. Self-publishing even one of my short works seemed... wrong. I am struggling to keep my head in the writing game... I may have something published by next year, we will see.