Wednesday, June 16, 2010

stuff i'm like totally into right now

Well, okay. It's been two weeks since I announced that I would deliver a blog post every week of this summer, meaning I've already broken my promise. Lame. I went to Portland for a week and I thought I'd post there, but I was too busy, like, hanging out in Portland, getting tattoos, piercing various parts of my face, and resuscitating my early 90s wardrobe...well, no. Fine. I didn't do any of those things. I did, however, go to Portland, where I did Portland-y things like run and hike in Forest Park, go to Powell's bookstore about a zillion times (that place is the MOTHERSHIP), ride lots of public transportation, eat at a different microbrewery every night, and in general soak up the joy of being in a city set in a location of magnificent natural beauty and run by liberals. We never would have been able to afford such a vacation were it solely on our own dime, but Eric had a conference for epidemiologist types going on there, and as soon as I heard that such a conference was occurring, in Portland, in June, I said, bring ME. And it coincided with our ninth anniversary, so that was nice.

So. Anyway. I'm going to make this blog entry into a list of stuff I like and am all into right now. That's all. Because that sounds fun to me. And I warn you that at least half of this list will probably be books. Because I am momentarily free of the professional obligation to read nothing but ethnography and theory and have been rampantly indulging my true passion, which loyal readers know is YA fantasy. And people, I have had some serious finds. Let us begin.

Stuff I'm Like Totally Into Right Now:

1. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Here's what blows. That atrociously-written, anti-feminist, simultaneously sexually conservative and sexually perverse load of Twilight garbage is floating around out there making crockshits of money while a mindblowingly good vampire book like this one flies completely under the radar. And you know, I hate to make this all about Empowerment and Agency in Female Leads and other such preachy stuff from a Feminist Concerned about the Self-Esteem of Young Girls, but if you are sick of fantasy universes that are all about manly conflicts between males in which girls are helpful sidekicks at best and helpless pawns/victims at worst, please, oh please, read this. Sunshine (and yes, her name really is Sunshine—sort of) is not a Buffy-style heroine in the sense that she does a lot of warrior-type stuff; it's more about her learning to rely on other, more subtle gifts while at the same time having to call on tremendous courage and problem-solving in the face of extreme duress and, you know, evil vampires. And there is nothing cheesy or at all romantic about those vampires, although there is some weirdly sexy and seriously intense chemistry between Sunshine and the main vampire character, who does not look like Angel, Spike, any of the vampires from True Blood, Brad Pitt, Edward “Glitter Boy” Cullen, or any Sexy Pop Culture Vamps of recent history. In fact, his skin is described as “mushroom gray.” HOT.

And for your information, there is no such thing as “vegetarian” vampires. Vampires suck your blood. Deal with it.

Also? Get this. Sunshine is a young, unmarried female character in a young adult fantasy novel...and she has SEX. And? And? She doesn't feel guilty about it, receive horrific cosmic punishment for it, die horribly as a result of it, or embody a man-eating whore archetype! It's amazing! She wants it, she has it, it is regarded, in this fictional universe, as, well, normal! Wow! Try it, authors! You'll be amazed how much there is left to write about when you totally leave aside the need to punish female characters for having sex!

2. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. This is a novel that takes place seven generations after the zombie apocalypse. Yes, you read correctly. The word “zombie” is not used once. It is intensely creepy. It is extremely well-written. It has an amazing girl protagonist. It really forces you to think about how horrible it would be people you loved became the undead, and don't you think that sounds like a valuable moral exercise? I don't know, folks. I really didn't care one way or another about zombies, but then, I had never seen the whole zombie trope, if you will, used this effectively. And in a spare, understated way, there is a lot in there about cultural isolation and control over historical narratives and how the passing of generations transforms history into myth. It's good stuff. There's a sequel I need to read next.

3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore. This book is stunning. Here is the author's website. Read it.

And yet again: Unmarried female protagonist has sex and it is just fine! Also professes a strong desire to remain unmarried, as marriage in this society would greatly circumscribe her freedom! Her decisions are not portrayed as tragic or neurotic! Unbelievable, I say! (There are many, many other things to recommend this novel as well. Again, read it. Just trust me.)

I tell you, I've probably been on about this before, but it's hilarious to me that the fundy Christian crowd got its panties in such a bunch about Harry Potter when the young adult section is in fact packed with any number of books that are way, way, WAY more subversive and just fly conveniently under that particular radar. (That's not a diss on old Harry, by the way. I do still love Harry Potter, but as fantasy novels/series go, others are closer to my heart these days.)

4. Emily the Strange. I know, I know, Emily started out as skateboarder insignia or something and now it's a whole franchise where you can buy everything from hoodies to home d├ęcor to express Goth attitude by means of the image of a scowling black-haired girl in a black dress, with cats. Which should probably make me cynical. But the Emily novels, The Lost Days (in which Emily has amnesia) and Stranger and Stranger (in which Emily inadvertently duplicates herself and creates an evil twin) are incredibly clever and hard to put down. Also, I was a scowling dark-haired girl who wore lots of black and loved cats. I was not, alas, a genius mad scientist, unlike Emily, who is. But let's just say we have some style simpatico. Therefore I construct my identity in this consumerist society by doing things like sticking Emily the Strange stickers on my planner.

5. The ocean. We spent one night on the coast last week, in the slightly rinky-dink tourist-y coastal town of Seaside. It was cold and rained for part of the time. It was overcast. The town was nothing special. But we had an inn with an oceanfront view, and the sand was firm enough to go running by the ocean, and it was marvelous. I feel that, given decently comfortable weather, I would be pretty happy sitting on a beach and just watching and listening to the ocean all day. How can anyone help but to feel connected to the ocean, regardless of how landlocked your home may be? We're all descended from marine ancestors. We are residents of planet Earth, a planet of water. I can barely stand to think about what's happening in the Gulf.

6. Getting stronger arms. No, not firearms, silly. I didn't up and join the Tea Party or anything. I'm speaking of my own monkey appendages. When I was a teenager, I was self-conscious because my upper arms were—get this—literally smaller in circumference than my forearms. I have become stronger over the years, and lifted weights or done a few lame push-ups off and on, and when I was doing a lot of vinyasa yoga I was fairly ripped, but during the school year, while I maintained my running schedule, I slacked on the upper body stuff. And I felt it, too. My backpack tired out my shoulders; my upper body ached midway through long runs. Once the summer started I bought myself some heavier dumbbells and got serious. This past week in Portland I carried a messenger bag around all day every day and even ended up running with it at one point, and not once did I feel tired of carrying it. This may seem like nothing to many of you, but I always get muscle pains in my shoulders if I carry bags or purses for too long. It's great to be stronger. Also, though I don't much like to think about it, good for osteoporosis prevention. I have every freaking risk factor in the book for that stupid disease, so it's best I start applying myself now.

7. Arugula pesto. I really should just submit this post to the Stuff White People Like blog already and have done with it. I've already mentioned Portland, a massive bookstore that is still independent, hanging out by bodies of water, microbreweries, running, a fictional character designed specifically for marketing to ironic hipsters, yoga, environmental concern, and the fact that I am a graduate student. All of these things are integral to my racial identity.

Yes, I love arugula pesto. I pick the arugula from my own garden. I eat it with homemade foccacia or whole wheat pasta that I purchased at the natural foods co-op. I freeze it for future use. However, my olive oil is the generic Kroger brand (still extra virgin, of course). Does this make me just slightly less white? Or did my need to assure you that my olive oil is generic and yet extra virgin in fact make me doubly white?

(I have very mixed feelings about that whole blog/book/concept. I suppose that could be a post at some point.)

OK, enough for now. I must put on some outdoor performance clothing, gather some fresh greens for my lunch, which I will eat alongside some leftover hummus. Then I'll take in my recycling (all the while grumbling how my liberal town should have curbside recycling), and perhaps make a stop at the aforementioned natural foods co-op on the way home, as well as perhaps picking up a six-pack of beer which I will justify by telling myself that at least it's a local microbrew, which I will share with my husband, who has two last names. And I hope that you all feel bad for not going outside.


Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

yay! Glad you posted. Again, I can't stress enough. Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull. I'm going out this week to try to find the first book you mentioned.

Animal said...

Great to read you again! Even though I'm pretty sure I won't read any of the books you mention (no offense…I'm just working on my own list right now), it's still good to feel that connection with you across the miles.

Shit. THAT was drippy. Here: if you're tired of feeling like you only like Stuff White People Like, get yo'self some purple drink. Not JUICE, bitch, what is JUICE? I need purple DRINK. Sugar, water, purple!

Jessi said...

Dear Steph,

Please just dictate what I read for the next three years, as I want to read just about every book you've ever mentioned here. The only one I've gotten too, shamefully, was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Ironically, I'm pretty sure we could include "horror based parodies of classic English literature" right on into stuff white people like. Along with incorrect usages of the word irony, which I just realized I totally did there. I would have changed it, but whatever, it's funnier this way.)

Lover of Neil Gaiman, Zombies, Vampires, stellar YA fiction, and closet Twilight reader

P.S. Animal - I love me some purple drink. Also, am fond of red drink. I feel so much better about myself now.

elizabeth said...

Can you share your arugula pesto recipe. Got lots in the garden. Was just reading your tatsoi post. Ha! Have tons of it right now. Dogs get it in their dinner. Thinking of ripping out the rest and planting spinach and chard in its place. Don't think I can give the tatsoi away!

angel3 said...

Steph! I was just trying to remember this blog and wondering if you were still doing it. Glad to see you are :-) Are you still doing yoga? I thought of you because I'm taking yoga again and it's going well! Oh, btw, think ISR, if you don't remember who I am ;-) But I should probably be commenting on this post, too. So, just a few words. So glad to hear other people agree that Twilight and many vampire stories are so misogynistic! Even though I'm a librarian, I had to boycott that series! Also, Graceling- love it! Have you read Hunger Games? Can't wait for the movie! I hope they get it right... Also, from one writer to another, have you ever read Writing Down the Bones? It is my new writers bible. The author lived in Ann Arbor for a time, which I find totally wild. Okay, here is to sending some words out into the universe!