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Saturday, October 31, 2009

They Just Can't Get No Respect

I love the New York Times Book Review; it and the Sunday puzzle are my favorite parts of the NYT, and I impatiently wait every Saturday morning for the newspaper to hit the curb so I can go fetch it in my pajamas and settle in to reading it when I am not refereeing toy disputes between the Beadboys. The Book Review, however, is rather notorious for ignoring genre fiction. So this week I took note of the essay on the last page, Picking a Genre -- a mildly amusing look at different genres. And even here, certain genres get short shrift. For example, romance is in the illustration, but not discussed. Science fiction and fantasy are not mentioned at all, unless you count the blurb on "fabulism" or magic realism. And so continues a longstanding tradition of ignoring genre.

Remember when the Book Review announced Dave Itzkoff would be doing a regular column (Across the Universe) on science fiction? I nearly cheered out loud, but apparently the NYT's definition of "regular" differs from mine -- according to the NYT archives, he has written a grand total of 14 reviews and articles on science fiction (depending on how you classify certain novels), and none in the last year. They dropped the "Across the Universe bit back in 2006. A perfect illustration of the Book Review's disdain for genre fiction, and rather foolish given the growing popularity (and mainstreaming) of science fiction.

The Book Review does review mysteries (called "crime", I guess for the same reasons some publishers try to gussy up scifi/fantasy by calling it "speculative fiction"), but the books reviewed are overwhelmingly of a type. Because God knows it's not worth reading if it doesn't have a brooding, lonely recovering alcoholic with health issues, a tortured past, a dead lover, a dismal apartment, and too much familiarity with the seedy underbelly of the city. That's it for genre fiction, however; scifi is barely touched and I think the editors think the civilization would collapse if they reviewed a romance. Reportedly, an editor once said, in explanation, "Well, we have to draw the line somewhere." Why? What does that mean? Isn't the point of the Book Review to highlight both "important" books and good books, books the readers of the NYT would be interested in? Are they aware of the diversity of taste in the city? Are they actually arguing that it is impossible to find a well-written, smart book in certain genres? That sort of attitude just encourages the idea that the NYT is a snooty paper for the upper class. Which it kind of is, if you only look at the styles section and the book review and the way they ignore local news. But its front page journalism is far superior to that of other local papers, and more to the point, they review populist music, shows, and movies all the time. So why not populist books? Good populist books -- there is a lot of schlock in scifi and romance (and "crime" and fiction and non-fiction . . .) and I think readers would love to be pointed to the best of the genres. It's simple, really; at the very least, once a month they could omit a review of yet another quickly written, irrelevant in a year, political book (or just cut it in half) and insert a page or half page with quick reviews in a genre. C'mon, NYT, you can do it. It might even increase readership and ad revenue.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Miscellaneous crafts

I've finally had some time to finish, or at least work on, crafts I started a while back.

For Halloween this year I decided to cover some fake pumpkins in glitter; an idea that is not at all common. I bought cheapo plastic pumpkins and painted them black, because I wanted to go for the black/charcoal/silvery look I saw in a Martha Stewart magazine. I then covered one with fine black glitter and one with silver. The black one came out pretty well (except for some smudges here and there):
It looks especially nice with the dried leaves and foliage. The silver pumpkin, on the other hand, did not come out so well:
The glitter dried splotchily, leaving some areas more silvery than others, partly I think because of the glue I used -- M.S.'s instructions said to use craft glue, which I found to be very thick. I think next time I'll use watered down glue or Modge Podge. In the mean time, I suppose I could reapply some glitter to even out the tone, but then the whole thing will end up looking like a disco pumpkin, which . . . not the look I was going for. I also may try to coat the pumpkins lightly with spray adhesive, to see if that prevents glitter shedding.

Right after Halloween is the Day of the Dead. Ever since my father died on All Souls Day I have been interested in the iconography of Day of the Dead (even though my father was Puerto Rican). Two years ago I made calaverita earrings:
Last year, inspired by Alicia Policia's felt skulls (one of which I bought) I decided to make a two-dimensional one myself. I finished the facial features, but then stalled on how to finish it until a few days ago:
The edge needed something, so after experimenting with colored lace I decided the rickrack worked best, especially as it is a marigold color, a flower often associated with Day of the Dead imagery. It then took me another half an hour to pick green perle cotton to hold the rickrack in place with french knots (sometimes I can be too picky about color). Once it is done, I will back it with another layer of felt. I'm also working on the brightly colored skeleton kits from Mill Hill.

Finally, inspired by my success with the Hungry Caterpillar quilt, I decided to get going on the Brown Bear quilt for Beadboy2. Behold the center of the top:
So much faster to put together than the odd pieces of the first one. I think I will add another border using the people fabric.

It feels good to work with my hands again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Winner of the National Book Award

Amazing how school, housework, and my damn wiener kids take up all my time. I finished Jincy Willett's Winner of the National Book Award over a week ago, and I have not had time to put together a post about the book (which I really enjoyed). (And I finished Northanger Abbey last night, so I am way behind.) So I will make two points:

1. Just as all the cover blurbs say, this book is funny, funny enough to make me laugh out loud on the train. But what they don't tell you is that the book is also downright scary. Willett so effectively portrayed a sociopathic, abusive man that I felt actual dread while reading the book, waiting to see what he would do next.

2. Her characters, particularly the two sisters who are the heart of the book, were marvelous. They were so much more than the hypersexual "bad" sister and the intellectual "good" sister. Abigail was no pathetic woman relying on men for approval; Willett forces one to see her genuine sensuality and love of life give her an integrity of character one would not otherwise expect. Even when she she falls into the thrall of the aforementioned sociopath, their relationship is not simply one of abuser and abusee, but something far more complex (as is Abigail herself). And indeed, by the end, it becomes apparent that Abigail is much stronger and more self-aware than people (including the readers) give her credit for -- and not in the "victim overcomes her abuser" way that Willett so brilliantly lampoons.

Dorcas, too, is wonderful. She narrates the book, and she recognizes the danger the sociopath poses right away. But she both fails and stands by her sister in unexpected ways, which adds depth to her character. I've read many books where the intellectual narrator is undone by his flaws; Dorcas was refreshing in that she was well aware of those flaws, and she coped with her failures. Unlike those other characters, her failures never bring her down or humiliate her permanently in some awful way. She seems to realize that her mistakes, and the emotions she could not control, are simply part of life. She does not wallow, and that makes her so much more likeable than the other characters.

I don't think I have done the book justice.

Bracelet giveaway!

The Glamorous Housewife over at Tales of a Retro Modern Housewife is giving away a neato bracelet made from plastic fruit. No wardrobe would be complete without such a stylish piece, so check it out.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bet Red

Sars over at Tomatonation runs a contest every year to raise money for Donors Choose, a wonderful charity that helps classrooms all over the country. To help out this year I decided to make tomato earrings to donate to Sars, to serve as one of the mini-prizes she gives out during the contest.

I started with big-hole wooden beads which I sloppily painted red and then covered with red delica beads:
I then made a sort of headpin from green wire which I formed into a spiral and strung on the beaded beads. The holes were still too big, so I added some size 8 beads to stabilize the earrings, then did a wire wrap loop to finish them off. The results:
So all two of you who read this blog -- check out the contest and donate if you can!