Tag Archives: books

Year’s Roundup: 2009

For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to the series Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening at the Aqueduct Press blog. What’s that? Well, it’s a bunch of blog posts written by Aqueduct Press authors showcasing shows, music, and what-have-you that we enjoyed. Want some fine recommendations from geeky, smart, creative, well-read feminists? Check it out. In the next few days, I’ll be reposting my essays.

Due to time constraints, I’m reposting without links or images, so I’ll also add links to the essays on the Aqueduct Press blog. Here’s the one from 2009.

A Sampling from 2009

Here is a small sampling of the books and shows I’ve enjoyed this year.

 Stories that Love Stories

In Ursula Le Guin’s The Telling, after the planet Aka joins the intergalactic community, all storytelling is forbidden. What happened? Suty comes as galactic observer and cultural anthropologist to find out. What follows is a quest of mystery and discovery that ends up on top of snowy mountains in a labyrinth of “books, thousands of books, in leather and cloth and wooden and paper bindings, unbound manuscripts in carved and painted boxes and jeweled caskets, fragments of ancient writing blazing with gold leaf . . .” Suty is trying to understand their banned religion, the Telling, which seems to come out of fragmented bits of unrelated stories, but finally comes to understand that the Telling is irreducible, that it is story itself.

Another book about the love of books is Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Italo Calvino learned about narrative from his experience of Italian cinema, where it was common practice to enter the theater in the middle of the movie, and maybe stick around to catch the beginning or maybe not, seeing the films all out of order. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler has ten beginnings to novels, interspersed with the reader’s pursuit of the true story and of the woman Ludmilla. It is full of story, tales told in the darkness. As in the Telling, all the fragments of the story come together to make a grand narrative that defies rational explanation.

Doctor Who is a television show that has been an endless source of story since 1963. Like a book, the Doctor’s time machine, the Tardis, is bigger on the inside than the out. It can take you anyplace, to tell any story that can possibly be told. The Doctor defeats villains with his wits or, in the best of the stories (such as Hugo award-winning “The Doctor Dances”), through healing. The episode “Silence in the Library” is set on a planet that is a library, containing all the books that ever existed in the universe. It’s a treasure horde guarded by a dragon, the Vashta Nerada, devourers who live in the shadow – not every shadow, but any shadow. There, the Doctor meets one of the strongest female characters he’s ever encountered: River Song, an archaeologist who has her own adventures, knows his future, and in that future, has learned his true name.

 Stories About Borders and Bridges

A shy girl with glasses and a love of books, I learned in first grade that I didn’t fit. I’m white, and so I can “pass” as not-other, but only by lying, by holding back parts of myself that matter deeply. And so whenever I’ve become part of a community and realized I don’t quite belong, I’ve been quick to blame myself. But how I understand my identity and my part in the world has been changing, and it’s thanks to writers such as bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldúa, women I read back in 1995 and whose thoughts have been growing in my mind all these years. From Gloria Anzaldúa, I learned the concept of the border crosser, the nepantlera, who becomes a bridge between worlds, and the Borderlands, a transformational space that crosses a geographic, metaphorical, or spiritual border.

I recently picked up The Gloria Anzaldua Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating and I’ve been slowly reabsorbing her ideas. In “La Prieta,” she writes about herself as a border person:

“Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and -legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of thread.”

Hers was a painful life. As a child she labored as a farm worker near the Mexican border, had an adolescent’s body at the age of three and a hysterectomy at the age of five, and was so sensitive that the pain of others hurt her too. Too white, too brown, too gay . . . But, she asks, why? “Growing up,” she writes, “I felt that I was an alien from another planet dropped on my mother’s lap. But for what purpose?”

She has an answer to that question, which brings me to Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler. The main character, Akin, is a half-human, half-alien hybrid. He fits in neither place, and he suffers for it. Not only do the human and alien (Oankali) worlds reject him, but he is also torn from an all-important sibling relationship; it’s a loss that can never be repaired.

But why? His suffering makes it possible for him to bridge the gaps between the human and Oankali worlds and bring possible salvation to humanity. The Oankali believe that humans suffer from a deadly genetic contradiction of intelligence plus hierarchy, and that it will necessarily lead the human race to destroy itself. And so, after humanity has all but wiped itself out, the Oankali are not prepared to save them. But at the end of the book, Akin is ready to take on the work, and it’s because he’s traveled between both worlds.

Like Akin and like Gloria Anzaldúa, Octavia Butler suffered greatly for her differences. She was too big, too black, too dyslexic. But for what purpose? Going back to Anzaldúa’s question, perhaps it is to build El Mundo Zurdo (the left-handed world), where “the queer groups, the people that don’t belong anywhere, not in the dominant world nor completely within our respective cultures . . . can live together and transform the planet.”

It is a tragedy that both Gloria Anzaldúa and Octavia Butler died much too soon. And so in the middle of an essay on pleasures I have to add a lament, for the troubles of their lives, for our loss of their imaginings.

 Stories About the Underworld

Perhaps it’s time to make a border crossing from our physical reality to the world of the soul, the underworld. So here are a few underworld stories.

“The Beads of Ku” by Nisi Shawl is an underworld story with humor and charm. The heroine, Fulla Fulla, has a head for business and the ability to move gracefully between our world and the Land of the Dead. When her husband grows jealous of her connection with the underworld, he breaks the rules, and it’s up to her to save him, using her wits and her skill at wrangling to outwit the king of the dead. It’s one of my favorites in her collection Filter House.

Humming The Blues by Cass Daglish is a translation of an underworld story written by the first person ever to sign her name to a text. Her name was Enheduanna, and in 2350 B.C., she wrote a poem about the goddess Ananna, who descended to the underworld and, with the help of her female friends, emerged triumphant. The exact meanings of the cuneiform text are impossible to know now, so Cass Daglish did her best by making a “jazz translation” of the text, delving into different possible meanings and using them to create a work of poetry.

 Stories in Picture and Chapter Books

Cheek by Jowl by Ursula Le Guin is a defense of animals, fantasy, and children’s literature. In “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists,” she writes, “To throw a book out of serious consideration because it was written for children . . . is in fact a monstrous act of anti-intellectualism. But it happens daily in academia.”

It’s all part of a general disrespect for children in our culture. It took being a mother for me to understand how seriously dysfunctional it is to marginalize and silence children. After all, a child is at the core of every one of us. Until you have paid serious attention to children, you can understand very little of the human soul. Children are alien, other, and so are we. So go ahead, find a children’s book you loved as a child, and enjoy it all over again. You know you want to.

Here are a few children’s books that will cheer you up in the dead of winter.

bell hooks’ Homemade Love is about Girlpie, a well-loved child. She breaks something special, and the break is devastating – has she lost the right to be loved? But her parents help her fix it. This is all about forgiveness and mending ruptures.

Shibumi and the Kitemaker by Mercer Mayer is a beautifully illustrated story about an emporer’s daughter who, on seeing the squalor of the city below her palace, goes aloft on a kite and refuses to come down until the city is as beautiful as the palace. The ending is exactly as ambiguous as it ought to be. In the beginning of the book is a poem about “authority without domination,” which I wrote down on a scrap of paper and then lost on my desk. So you’ll have to get the book if you want to read the poem.

Boo and Baa Get Wet, by Norwegian authors Olaf and Lena Landstrom, is part of a series about siblings named Boo and Baa, who have the innocence of children, the autonomy of adults, and a clearly loving relationship. They have little adventures that go wrong but always end up okay. Ants on a picnic, a cat stuck up in a tree, a cabbage that rolls down a snowy hill. In Boo and Baa Get Wet, they leave their croquet set outside and have to go get it in the middle of a thunderstorm. My favorite part is when there is a flash of lightning and the text says, “Now what? What happened?” In this silence, I can stop in my reading and talk to the children about what is going on. And the series is full of these little moments.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren is the anti-Bartleby. Bartleby’s refusal was passive and led only to his death, but Pippi’s “won’t” just means she has better things to do with her time. Luckily, she can back up her “won’t” with brawn, wits, and a pirate chest full of gold. While Bartleby let the police carry him off, Pippi led hers on a merry chase on her rooftop, letting them down only when they asked nicely. Hurrah, Pippi! Hurrah, humanity!

 And A Movie

My favorite movie from this year is Not One Less, about a thirteen-year-old girl who takes the job as substitute teacher in a remote Chinese province for an entire month. She has no qualifications and seemingly little to teach, but she’s the only one who volunteered. How could she possibly take charge of a class? When one of her students leaves the school to find work in the big city and then gets lost, she knows she has to find him. It’s impossible. But she is stubborn, determined, patient, and strong. Can she bring him back? This is a good counterpoint to the travesty of No Child Left Behind.

pencil and notebook3

Couple stories published in Missing Links and Secret Histories

So if you haven’t heard yet, good news on the publication front. Two of my stories came out in the anthology Missing Links and Secret Histories from Aqueduct Press.

NPR online rated it one of the top 5 books to read this summer. I agree. And no, not just because my stories are in it! This is the kind of book you might take to the beach, have fun reading a story, then watch the water while you think about it. I can manage one story a day, if that.

My two stories are:

“Mystery of the Missing Mothers” — fake Wikipedia entries detailing how teen detective Nancy’s search for her mother leads her through a time tunnel into an ancient Sumerian city, where mysterious stone tablets describe her search for her mother.

Excerpt: “Nancy and her friend Tom Swift are comparing memories about their dead mothers and discover startling similarities. Hunting for some answers, Nancy goes to the Riverside Library only to find the river has flooded and alluvial mud is swamping the library. . . . She trips, falls into a wall, and knocks a brick loose, revealing a hidden passage. Excited, Nancy pries away the bricks with a chisel she brought just in case and then goes on down the tunnel using a flashlight she just happened to have.”

and “The Galadriel Apocrypha” — fake Wikipedia entries about how Galadriel will be depicted in the canon in various cyberchurches in the Next Age.

Excerpt: “The characterization of Galadriel is also controversial in these apocryphal texts. They paint a picture of Galadriel as a transsexual(1) who befriended the Dark Elves(2) and who was destined to become an organizer and military strategist in a quest to unite all the races of Middle-Earth(3). This is in direct contradiction to claims made by both the Church of the Elven Queen and the Ilúvatar Priesthood that all elves are strictly heterosexual and respect the Hierarchy of Races, and that any evidence to the contrary stems from serious inconsistencies in Tolkien’s unfinished works(4). The Ilúvatar AI, as always, has made no comment one way or the other.”

Sound geeky and silly and twisty-turny? They are.

Cover to the anthology Missing Links and Secret Histories

The book that broke my heart


I read Green Mansions in high school, and it broke my heart. I don’t remember much about it, only Rima, the beautiful wild girl in the trees. I fell completely in love with her.

(Spoilers for the book coming up.)

She appears first in a tree in the jungle, playing a game of hide and seek with the narrator, running easily along branches that are high in the air. I don’t remember what else there was about her, but that alone was enough to capture my heart. People who live in the trees, oh yeah!

Okay, so here’s the spoiler. After I had fallen deeply and madly in love, she was killed by some men. Why? I don’t remember. I have a vague recollection that they set her tree on fire.

I cried for an hour, and even now I can barely pick up the book.

However, I decided the time was right to try the book again. I have a clever plan, the kind of plan that comes from being a writer. I read the book, just until before she gets chased by the men, and I write a happy future for her.

So far, I’ve finished the prologue and the first two chapters. Turns out it’s full of references to “savages.” That’s imperialism for you. Even so, the characters are well drawn, sympathetic, and full of life.

Wish me luck with the rest. But don’t tell me anything whatsoever about the book! I don’t want to know. I just want Rima to live.



This Chick Digs “Chicks Unravel Time”

I dig it. Chicks Unravel Time, ed. Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles, brings in a mad collection of feminists – fans, authors, artists – to take a look at every season of Doctor Who. And what a look! They give close examinations to everything from the use of stock music in Season 5 in Classic Who to David Tennant’s bum in Series 2 of New Who. (We women like every aspect of the Doctor, apparently.)

Here are a few shout-outs to essays that ringed a bell for me.

In “Guten Tag, Hitler,” Rachel Swirsky asks some pointed questions about the Doctor. As a child, Swirsky asked her mom if her family was safe from such persecution because they did not practice the Jewish religion. No, said her mother. So this episode takes on highly personal significance for Swirsky. She asks the very reasonable question of why the Doctor didn’t try to save the Jews from Hitler. “The Doctor,” she writes, “doesn’t save people from the all-too-real horrors of trenches and machetes. He rescues them from malfunctioning robots.”

In “Identity Crisis,” L.M. Myles writes, “[Patrick] Troughton’s not merely good as the Doctor, he’s the best.” Thank you, L.M. Myles. I’ve never heard anybody say that before, but I absolutely agree. She writes: “His performance combines humor, compassion, intelligence and mystery in a way that’s still unmatched by any other actor to take on the role” and “[his] whimsy and apparent uncertainty in his own abilities makes him a very different sort of hero.” Yes, and yes. Troughton is panicky as often as he is triumphant and out of control as often as he is successful. I love it. Who wants a hero who has everything handled?

In “The Women We Don’t See,” K. Tempest Bradford looks at Season Thirteen, companion Sarah Jane Smith, and all the other women . . . who weren’t there. “For most of this season, the Doctor travels alone with Sarah Jane – and in half the stories, she’s the only women we see, with the exception of extras and background people. This erasure is as glaring as the stereotypes we get when women do eventually show up.” I remember watching this season for the first time. And the second. And the third. And not noticing that omission.

In “No Competition,” Una McCormack argues that Season 26, with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, is the best season ever. She writes, “Season Twenty-Six contains a magic combination of complex storytelling and satisfactory realization that, to my mind, is never quite matched before or since.” I agree it’s pretty darn awesome. Sylvester McCoy and his companion Ace are some of my favorite characters. McCormack writes: “Ace grows up, and Doctor Who grows up with her. Again and again, the season imagines women as heroes of their own narratives, as authors of their own stories.” Yeah. What she said.

In “Ace Through the Looking-Glass,” Elisabeth Bolton-Gabrielsen covers that story arc that Ace should have had, if the show hadn’t been cancelled. I didn’t know this, but Ace was supposed to train to become a Time Lord.

I’ve saved my favorite for last. In “Maids and Masters: The Distribution of Power in Doctor Who Series Three,” Courtney Stoker takes on the power dynamics between the Doctor and his companions. She writes: “Power impacts every relationship the Doctor has, but it’s not something Who fans talk about often. We like to pretend, I think, that the Doctor’s extraordinary power isn’t important. We like to think that it doesn’t affect him or his relationships with others. We like to think that if companions are ‘strong’ enough, sassy enough, smart enough, they are his equals. But no matter how many times a companion saves the Doctor, or how many times a companion stands up to him, they don’t have his power.” The rest of the essay is a frank assessment of power dynamics in Series Three. (Can I just add, on a related note, how disturbing and gratuitous I found the maid/Master dynamic in the tenure of Martha Jones?) I loved this essay because I am always analyzing power dynamics in Doctor Who relationships. I relish every last little bit of power the companions wrest from the Doctor or that the Doctor yields to the companions. And I love all the moments when the power dynamics between the Doctor and his companions shift one way or another. Stoker asks: “Are we fans as attracted to the Doctor’s power as his companions are?” Um, yes.

I’ve picked out these essays in particular, but the others are just as stunning. Go get it! It’s available as part of a box set on the Mad Norwegian Press website.

Nancy Pearl, Guest of Honor at Foolscap 2013

Okay, everybody know what a con is? Short for convention, but a fun one, and often related to science fiction and fantasy. There’s a ComicCon (features comics), a NorwesCon (takes place in the Northwest), WisCon (feminist SF/F, takes place in Wisconsin), and so on.

In February, I went to a con called Potlatch / Foolscap. What was that? Imagine a weekend-long speculative fiction book group with conversation, food, and chocolate. Much fun was had. My biggest disappointment was when I tried to eat a chocolate-covered strawberry but my injured jaw couldn’t open wide enough to get it in one bite.

The Guest of Honor for the Foolscap portion of the con was Nancy Pearl, celebrity librarian. She used to be the city librarian for Seattle and is the author of Book Lust, a guide to good books.

Now, the tradition with some cons is that the Guest of Honor is the Big Important Person who stands up front and lectures. That’s not what happens in Potlatch and Foolscap. It’s all about conversation, and all about people who have a shared interest in books getting together and enjoying themselves. Nancy Pearl fit right in. She was more interested in asking questions than answering them, and the panels ended up to be very thought-provoking. Here are a couple of highlights of what was said, both by her and by others.

The Future of Libraries

Will libraries always have a physical presence? Do they need one? Will paper books always be an essential component of libraries? What is the function of a library? Is it only about information, or is it about something else? And a more concrete question faced by librarians today: How can they justify spending large amounts of money buying and storing large quantities of books, when digital books are readily available?

We had a bit of a debate on this. Get a lot of SF geeks in a room, and invariably you will find somebody who thinks the Internet can do everything books can do, and better. But many of us disagreed. Together, we listed rather an enormous number of things a library is and does:

  • Community meeting space
  • Location for flyers and tax information
  • A home for a librarian
  • Home for books
  • Haven for a child
  • Place to get information
  • A “people’s university”
  • A place to learn English
  • And lots of other things

What Is The Role of a Library?

While we were debating the role of the library, people started talking about missions for different library systems. Nancy Pearl stepped in and gave an example that she liked and that puts reading at the center of the library:

“Cuyahoga County Public Library will be at the center of community life by providing an environment where reading, lifelong learning and civic engagement thrive.”

I like that definition too. It is much more articulate than the “libraries are for books!” protest I used to make when my young children wanted to log on to the library computers and play video games.

What is the Role of a Librarian?

Nancy Pearl also talked about the role of the librarian. Someone said she made recommendations, and she said, no, she makes suggestions. When someone comes to her asking for a suggestions, she asks the person what a book was that they liked and why they liked it. She asked about dimensions such as subject, plot, character, and language. And then she listened. The way they talked about the book they liked gave her a lot of clues about what else they might like to read.

Outside of the panel, I got into a conversation with someone whose wife had been a librarian at a library I had patronized at the age of twelve. He asked me if I had perhaps known her, and I said, “Definitely not.” To me at the age of twelve, librarians were always “the people who check out your books” and it really would never have occurred to me at the age of twelve to talk to one of them. I still don’t go up to librarians and say, “Well, I’m looking for something to read . . . ” But I seek out librarians for suggestions in another way, by looking at the “staff picks.” I love staff picks. Thank you, librarians.

Can We Defend Reading for Pleasure?

Someone pointed out that library systems are having a hard time defending the need for libraries in the digital age. A lot of people said, “But we need libraries so we can read for pleasure!” The trouble, though, is that so few people read for pleasure, it’s hard to justify that as socially useful.

My contribution to this was, “But what about kids?”

Someone allowed that this was a good exception.

But then I thought about it a minute longer. If children didn’t read for pleasure, why on earth would they ever go to the trouble to read at all? And if parents didn’t read for pleasure, then how would their children learn to?

I am thinking that if nobody read for pleasure, civilization would collapse.

Boys as Readers

The audience, including librarians and teachers and parents, made some observations about boys as readers. It is a challenge to find books that boys like. They judge books by their covers and won’t read any book that looks like it’s for girls or has a girl on the cover. Somebody pointed out that on-demand printing can be of help here, because books can come out with different covers.

Someone said that there is now a trend of more girls graduating than boys.

A high school teacher said there was a need for middle-grade books that appeal to boys.

I brought up my concern about my third-grade boy only wanting Goosebumps, and somebody suggested Arthur Ransome as an author for boys his age. Thank you, whoever you were! He’s already moved on to a more varied reading diet, but our whole family enjoyed Ransome’s Pigeon Post as a book on CD.

Miscellaneous things somebody recommended

Here are some things people recommended and I wrote down. I forget why they recommended some of them them. Sorry, readers, but I’m adding this for my own convenience, so I can look back at it later. That is one of the greatest and best things about Potlatch panels: all the book recommendations that come up in conversation.

Booklamp.com – analyzes books, book genome projects

Slysoft – any DVD

And finally . . . when asked to recommend just one book in all the books coming up, Nancy Pearl gave the appropriate qualifiers but then mentioned Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. She said the writing was stunning and reminded her of The God of Small Things.

Scored by Lauren McLaughlin: Some Thoughts

Note: This is an expansion of a book I reviewed on the blog post “Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012” on aqueductpress.blogspot.com.

Scored by Lauren McLaughlin

This YA novel is the dystopia for our time. What happens when you put together No Child Left Behind high-stakes standardized testing with surveillance measures like spy-cams and GPS monitoring of cell phones, and then introduce a company whose product is a single score for every child, which colleges and corporations will then use to sort people?

That is the reality for Imani LeMonde, a high school student whose scores put her on track for a college scholarship — something that is otherwise out of reach for all but the very rich. The scores are supposed to establish a meritocracy to replace our system of inequalities, but something else is going on. Scores update minute-to-minute, and they depend not only on school performance but also day-to-day activities and peer group associations.

Imani’s troubles begin when her score drops precipitously because her friend Cady is kicked out of her house and moves in with a boy. This takes her off the college track, and if her scores drop farther, her only options will be welfare or the military. She has a choice to make — but it’s not the simple moral dilemma of whether or not to denounce Cady to regain her score, because that option is not open to her. Instead, she has to look deeply into the scoring system to understand how it works — and what matters to her.

The society pictured here is not far off the mark. Our teens and children will be subject to more surveillance than we ever imagined. Case in point: school records are kept in “longitudinal databases” where they can be tracked over long periods of time and across school district and state lines. And by school records I mean test scores, tardies, absences, ethnicity, dental records – you name it. (For a sneak peek of the hundreds of items that can be collected, visit http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentElementarySecondary.)

This information is being provided to the private sector without public comment or scrutiny. For example, the Seattle Public School district signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an organization called the Community Center for Education Results, indicating that the district would be sharing its database of student information with CCER. This database excludes “personally identifiable” information about the students according to the federal FERPA law, but because it is so specific, it is potentially identifiable information, particularly if you are nonwhite, use special education services, and so forth. Also, private sector organizations could easily combine this information with other databases.

(Thanks to the mirmac1 for her comment on Feb 21, 2013 on the blog saveseattleschools.blogspot.com.)

Just as one example among many, yesterday I went to the Pacific Science Center and visited an exhibit called “Professor Wellbody’s Academy of Health and Wellness.” This is a grant and foundation-funded exhibit. As part of the exhibit, children can join the “Academy” by entering information about themselves – first name, school attended, and health habits such as diet and sleep. So now there’s a database about kids per school, and a certain lack of clarity about who will get that information.

Ten years from now, could a prospective employer check the database for these types of information about my children? I bet. Could they get a score? I bet.

Potlatch/Foolscap – the Book of Honor

Well, I introduced my weekend at Potlatch/Foolscap in yesterday’s post. Today I’ll say a little bit about the Potlatch Book of Honor. (Potlatch has a tradition of having a Book of Honor rather than a Guest of Honor. Everyone reads the same book and discusses it throughout the con.)

This year the Book of Honor was Among Others by Jo Walton. That deserves its own post, but in brief it is a coming-of-age story of a person with a disability who is also a fan of 1970s SF/F. Mori, the main character, is sent away to a boarding school and has to deal with otherness surrounding both her disability and her love of classic sci-fi. Along the way she encounters fairies that come straight out of . . . not The Lord of the Rings, but from the actual mythology that inspired Tolkien. The book is thought-provoking and heartwarming, won a Hugo award, and is well worth the read!

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the concept of a “karass.” The term comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, and it mean — very satirically — a “group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will.” It means something different in Among Others. There it means something like “a group of people who don’t fit in with regular people due to fannishness, and who might have the good fortune to find each other and, for the first time in their lives, fit in.” There’s a sense of community, and also a sense of having a similar world view because of having read the same books.

Potlatch is quite a bit like that. Many of the people who have kept it going all these years grew up on science fiction / fantasy from a similar era. For some, it’s the 1970s, and for some, it’s even earlier. There are people who got to know each other by passing around fanzines through the mail. (This was pre-Internet.) These are often thoughtful and beautifully done. There is a tradition of an active participation by fans in the writing of SF/F — readers would write into SF/F magazines asking for more stories from a particular author, or praise or criticize something an author had said or done, and there would end up being two-way communication. Somewhere along the way a local writer’s workshop developed, Clarion West, and many of the people involved with Potlatch are also involved with Clarion West. That means the local fans have built a community that supports the authors of tomorrow, which is awesome.

You can find out more about Walton and her book by reading this interview with Jo Walton.

A Weekend at Potlatch/Foolscap

I spent the weekend at a “reader’s spa.” Chocolate fondue, rest time, reading time, conversation, coffee, brunch, board games, even a masseuse at the ready.

Actually, it’s not called a spa.You could call it a weekend-long book group meeting, with food.

But it’s not called a book group either. It’s called a con, short for convention. But it’s unlike any other con I know about. I’m not altogether sure how to explain it. First off, it was a hybrid between two different cons — Potlatch and Foolscap. I’ve never been to a Foolscap, but I’ve been going to Potlatch for years. It is all about science fiction/fantasy book fandom, and beyond that it means different things to different people. There’s a hospitality suite with free food (and a donation kitty, of course) and hardworking volunteers. There’s a “book of honor” rather than a “guest of honor”, and the book provides a focal point for conversations that take place. As for the conversations, there are two kinds of programming: panels and microprogramming. The panels are decided in advance and involve lots and lots of audience participation. Usually the audience talks more than the panelists. The microprogramming are events that get decided on the spur of the moment. People write them up and then people attend them.

(Now when I said there was a book of honor rather than a guest of honor, that only applied to the Potlatch side of things. Foolscap has a guest of honor – in fact, two. Nancy Pearl, celebrity librarian, and Michel Gagné, artist and cartoonist. And they were responsible for the chocolate fondue.)

Potlatch is extremely well suited for introverted readers and writers. We just plain have difficulty with conversation. Not only that, but we do conversation differently. Actually, what I mean is that *I* do conversation differently. I hear something, and it sets something off in my mind, and then I take a long time to mull it over. Or I read something in a book, and although I might like to talk to somebody about it, maybe nobody around me has read the same book and then before long I forget whatever it was I wanted to say. So in general, in my daily life, I simply don’t talk about what matters most to me.

Put another way, cocktail party conversation is hell for me.

At Potlatch, on the other hand, I might attend a panel with something pre-prepared to say. Or I might spark off some idea somebody else had. Or I might derive some casual conversation to share with somebody later in the elevator. Or I might just remain silent and then go home and write about it later.

That would be now.

Censorship on overdrive

What is censorship? A central committee allowing publication and distribution of approved items only? 

What’s the role of a public library? Historically they’ve taken a stand against book-banning.

What is censorship in the digital age?

What is the role of a public library in the digital age?

All these questions and others have been churning around in my mind ever since reading this post:


Overdrive, the (for-profit) provider of ebooks for public libraries, holds a monopoly on providing ebooks, probably for purely pragmatic reasons (they’re the first to come up with a system the library could actually use), which would be one thing if they allowed for downloading of ALL books, but they don’t. Only approved books–that is to say, only books put out by major publishers–that is to say, only books with the information that the corporate interests who control the publishing industry want us to have.

I’m wondering about intellectual freedom for my children, brave new pioneers of the “screen-time generation.”

Judy Moody Goes to College!

I spent last year volunteering part-time in a second grade classroom, working with the kids at math. Although many of them were “at standard,” to me it seemed like they were seriously lacking in math fundamentals – not so much arithmetic as “number sense” – an intuitive understanding of numbers and how they work together. How do you help your kids develop that?

Read this book.

(Whether you have a boy or a girl, but especially if you have a girl who needs confidence in math)

Judy Moody Goes to College by Megan Mcdonald


It’s a kid’s book. Read it out loud to your kid, even if she’s a reader herself. Why? Because, like the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, it has as much to teach parents as kids.