Saturday, December 31, 2022

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Fowler

I hated this book until after the big reveal (page 77). If it hadn't been a holiday gift from my brother, I would have given it up long before that. The narrator is entitled, and it's all about her and her messed up family with their troublesome secrets, which she is not going to share with us yet.

The first real action, on page 7, involves a maniac drama queen screaming a her boyfriend in the college cafeteria, "You want space? I'll give you space!" And knocking over table and chairs. Our narrator gets swept up in the drama and ends up in a jail cell for a few hours. It's hard to see why she'd be drawn to the maniac. And you won't find out until at least 70 pages later.

I'll be kind to those who prefer to read the book in order, and keep spoilers below the fold. But my recommendation is to skim the first 77 pages, and then dig in.  The story is fascinating after that. It even feels like the narrator's voice changes.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Thinking about Sophie's World

My friend, Gustavo, recommended Sophie's World. I like the idea of a story that has something bigger in it. (In this story, we have a history of philosophy.) But I'm only 30 pages in, and I'm seeing that I'll have lots to disagree with.

I googled 'philosophical responses to Sophie's World', and got lots of study guides (no thanks!) and no critiques. I am not a philosopher myself, but I have read a few books by a radical feminist philosopher (Marilyn Frye, author of Willful Virgin and Politics of Reality) and try to see the world through an anti-racist, anti-colonialist lens as well. I don't think the author questions the world as widely as he might think he does. I would welcome responses here by liberationist philosophers.

What I'm writing here are somewhat spontaneous notes. I expect to come back and edit them later.

page 2: Sophie's father was the captain of a big oil tanker, and was away for most of the year.

My question: Will this create issues for Sophie, as her eyes open? (Perhaps my idea of philosophy is more political than the author's?)

page 26: Around 700bc, much of the Greek mythologywas written down by Homer and Hesiod. Ths created a whole new situation. Now that the myths existed in written form, it was possible to discuss them.

I know the book will oversimplify complex things, and that's not really the problem I have here. My problem is partly the credit that's given to writing, partly the implicit idea of progress, partly the Eurocentric path we are taking in this story, and partly settig up philosophy as a better way to understand the world than myth. I don't think he understands how myth works. Hmm. Do I understand well enough to spell it out? Not sure.

I'd have to check with an anthropologist, but I'm guessing that unwritten myths evolve over time, shifting to contain more wisdom, perhaps. But written texts are static. For how many centuries did people simply believe Aristotle's proclamations? Scientific progress in the west was stymied for centuries.

page 26: During that period, the Greeks founded many city-states ... where all manual work was done by slaves, leaving the citizens free to devote all their time to politics and culture.

He doesn't seem to wonder whether that class (caste?) division affected the philosophy they created.

page 31: So philosophy gradually liberated itself from religion. We could say that the natural philosophers took the first step in the direction of scientific reasoning.

Except that, since all manual labor was done by slaves (lower caste), the philosophers were loathe to actually do experiments, which would involve manual labor.

Bedtime. More later...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Intersectional Feminism" and Kids' Books

I like that term - intersectional feminism. I've been hearing it a lot this past year or so. Today a friend posted a list of kids' books that supposedly teach intersectional feminism. One of the books was from Disney. Nope. Not my kind of list. So I took my bibliography of Kids' Books with Passion, and found all the books that had strong girls who represented something else too - things like racial diversity,  different sorts of bodies or sexuality, class consciousness, or a connection with the Earth.

Here's my list. Some of these books can (and should) be critiqued. I have left those in, because they expanded my world, even if they are flawed. Enjoy.

Kids’ Books and 
“Intersectional Feminism”  
(ie strong girls and women who are also …)

Picture books.

Agatha’s Feather Bed, by Carmen Deedy, ill. by Laura Seeley. Agatha spins yarn and weaves cloth, and sells it in a little shop between two skyscrapers in Manhattan. She explains to a young customer where cotton, silk, etc. come from. And then… Is she spinning a yarn?
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman, ill. by Caroline Binch. Grace loves stories, and loves acting them out. When her class is going to put on Peter Pan, one friend tells her she can’t be Peter because he’s a boy, and another says so because he’s not black. Her mama and her nana help her through. Boundless Grace is great too (on families that don’t have the ‘required’ mother and father).
Angel Child, Dragon Child, by Michele Surat, ill. by Vo-Dinh Mai. Ut must start American school while her mother is still in Vietnam. A boy calls her Pajamas, and other kids laugh. Later she and the boy get in a fight, and the principal finds a good solution.
Annie and the Old One, by Miska Miles and Peter Parnall. Annie tries to delay her grandmother’s death by unraveling the rug grandmother is planning to finish before she dies.
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. Cassie and her younger brother BB are flying over present-day New York when an old, ramshackled train appears. BB gets on and Cassie is upset that he’s gone off. Aunt Harriet tells her she can catch up with him by escaping slavery on the ground.
Baby Dance, by Ann Taylor, ill. by Marjorie van Heerden. I love the pictures. I love the text (a re-working of ‘Hush little baby, don’t you cry’). When my son was small, I danced around with him while I read it.
Born In the Gravy, by Denys Cazet. Margarita tells her father about her first day in kindergarten. She has some great stories to tell.
The Crane Girl, by Veronika Matenova Charles. Yoshiko is sad, angry, and lonely after her younger brother is born. She becomes a crane, but still visits her human family.
Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia McKissak, ill. by Rachel Isadora. Flossie’s taking eggs to Miz Viola, and has been told to watch out for the fox. She outsmarts fox all the way there.
Fox Song, by Joseph Bruchac, ill. by Paul Morin. Jamie is lying in bed, remembering walks and talks with her gramma, the day after gramma has died.
From Miss Ida’s Porch, by Sandra Belton, ill. by Floyd Cooper. “There’s a very best time of day on Church Street.” It’s evening, when stories get told on Miss Ida’s Porch, about when Duke Ellington stayed with one of the neighbors, and when folks in the neighborhood saw Marion Anderson sing in front of the Lincoln memorial, because she wasn’t allowed to sing at Constitution Hall.
Grandmother’s Pigeon, by Louise Erdrich, ill. by Jim LaMarche. Grandmother has sailed away on a porpoise, and now the eggs in one of the old nests in her room  are hatching. But the birds that hatch are supposed to be extinct. Detailed, realistic pictures support the magical realism of the story.
Hide and Sneak, by Michael Kusugak, ill. by Vladyana Krykorka. Allashua, a young Alaskan girl, gets lost following a creature that wants to play hide and seek with her. But her people’s stone posts guide her home.
Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer.  Liza Lou’s mother sends her on errands through the swamp but warns her to be careful of the dangerous creatures. Liza Lou outsmarts them all.
Our Gracie Aunt, by Jacqueline Woodson. Beebee and Johnson are home alone for a very long time. A social worker comes and takes them to stay with their aunt. Scary situations are handled beautifully.
Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, ill. by John Schoenherr.  She has been waiting a long time to go owling with Pa. It’s a cold winter night, and they must walk through dark woods in hopes of seeing a Great Horned Owl.
Pictures for Miss Josie, by Sandra Belton, ill. by Benny Andrews. A fictional story about a real woman, Josephine Carroll Smith, who helped young Black men in college, providing them a home away from home.
Quennu and the Cave Bear, by Marie Day. With a historical note on ancient cave paintings at the end, this story imagines what life might have been like for Quennu, who seems to be destined to be the next shaman of her tribe.
Silent Lotus, by Jeanne Lee. Lotus cannot hear, and other children in the village won’t play with her. But she loves to dance like the cranes. And when her parents travel with her to the city, to ask for a sign – she finds a wonderful life.
Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting, ill. by David Diaz. How do you talk with children about something like riots? The boy in this story is kept safe by his mama, but their apartment building catches fire, and they must stay awhile in a shelter. Two cats who always fought make friends and bring the people together.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, ill. by James Ransome. Sweet Clara, a slave sent away from her momma before she was 12, was determined to get back. She learned to sew, and was sent from the fields to the Big House. She listened to all that was said, and sewed into a quilt a map for heading North.
The Crane Girl, by Veronika Martenova Charles. Yoshiko feels unloved after her baby brother is born, and asks the cranes if she can be their baby. The cranes do a magic dance, and she becomes one of them. [Japan]
The Library, by Sarah Stewart, ill. by David Small. Elizabeth Brown loves to read more than anything. This is a life with books. But at the end, she moves in with a friend, and they read together, “page after page after page.” Very sweet.
The Old Woman Who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant, ill. by Kathryn Brown. The old woman has named her house, her car, her chair, and her bed. She has outlived all her friends, and only names things that will outlive her. Until a shy brown puppy begins to visit…
The Patchwork Quilt, by Valerie Flourney, ill. by Jerry Pinkney. Grandma teaches Tanya and her mama the value of memories. They all learn to value old age more.
The Wednesday Surprise, by Eve Bunting. A little girl and grandma are keeping a secret from the family. They’re practicing reading every Wednesday evening. Surprise ending for the reader, too.
To Hell With Dying, by Alice Walker, ill. by Catherine Deeter. The young Alice was friends with a dying, alcoholic old man named Mr. Sweets. Her dedication: “To the old ones of my childhood who taught me the most important lesson of all: That I did not need to be perfect to be loved. That no one does.”
Where Are You Going, Manyoni?, by Catherine Stock. Manyoni enjoys her hours-long walk to school, through the African veld, in Zimbabwe.
Z’s Gift, by Neal Starkman. Z reaches out to his teacher, who has AIDS.

Chapter books.

A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer. 11-year-old Nhamo, mother dead, father gone, escapes a forced marriage in a stolen boat, and travels through Africa.
Catwings, by Ursula LeGuin. Ahh… This is a chapter book with pictures on each page, a good place to start for longer books. It’s very special. “Mrs. Jane Tabby could not explain why all four of her children had wings.”
Child of the Owl, by Lawrence Yep. When Casey’s father goes into the hospital, she must go to stay with her grandmother Paw-Paw in Chinatown (in San Francisco). It’s very foreign to her at first, but with Paw-Paw’s help, it becomes home.
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Ella is strong, her curse (to be obedient) is dangerous, her adventures are many. Marvelous re-spinning of Cinderella.
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan. Esperanza lives in Mexico, where her father owns a ranch. When he dies, she and her mother lose everything and move to the U.S., where they join other migrant laborers. She starts out sweet but spoiled, and learns much.
Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt. Dicey is about 12 when her mother walks into a mall and never comes back, leaving the 4 kids in the car. Dicey leads the others across Connecticut, and then further, looking for a home.
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. Julie must leave her village in Alaska, and figures out how to live with the wolves.
Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw. Saaski is a wild child, who finds out her very strange history. Half elf, her human life doesn’t fit right, and playing her pipes on the moor is her only solace.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor. Set in the deep south, in the 30’s. Cassie Logan’s family owns and farms 200 acres. The Logans have managed to protect their children from the hatred of the whites around them, but this year will be especially difficult.
Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. By the author of the classic Pippi Longstocking, this story has more depth. The robbers live in their mountain stronghold, with young Ronia beloved by all. Ronia befriends a boy from the rival robber band, and trouble ensues.
Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher. A re-telling of Sheherazade.
The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis. Set in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, when women were not allowed outside, and were required to wear head-to-toe covering burqas. When Parvana’s father is taken away by soldiers, her family is in dire straits with no man. Parvana realizes she can pass as a boy, and becomes the breadwinner.
The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson. Gilly is in foster care. She tries to mess up in each home, in hopes that her mother will finally come get her. Maime Trotter, Gilly’s new foster mother, helps her to grow. (Sad ending…)
The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman. A girl has slept in the dung heap to keep warm, and the midwife brings her home to do errands. Though she has no name and believes herself stupid, her caring and help bring her friends and wisdom. (Also great: Catherine Called Birdy)
The Music of Dolphins, by Karen Hesse. An amazing story of a girl raised by dolphins, and then (sadly for her) found.
The Necessary Hunger, by Nina Revoyr. When Nancy Takahiro’s dad marries Raina Webber’s mom, they must live in uncomfortably close quarters. How do you date someone you live with?
The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman. It’s 1872, Sally Lockhart is 16, an orphan, and caught up in the mystery of her father’s death.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi. Charlotte Doyle goes aboard ship, and participates in a mutiny.
Tree Girl, by T.A. Barron. A girl lives at the edge of the sea with an old man, who warns her of the ghouls in the forest.
Wise Child, by Monica Furlong. Set in Scotland in the middle ages, Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, who teaches her to read, to work with healing herbs, and even a bit of magic.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Brasil: A Bit of History

Brazil feels like a second home to me, even though I haven't been back since 1981. Here's an article dealing with the 1964 coup, the enduring power of the military, and the forces of democracy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Poem: Keeper of Words, by Ciara Sanker

My friend Ciara, is a foodie. I guess she's a wordie too. I'd like to collect my favorite poems, and make a book out of them. This is a good one to start the series with, I think.

Keeper of Words
by Ciara Sanker

My words are getting
hopped up on caffeine
and strung out on nostalgia,
and I am sitting here
sober enough to record
their antics. Their particularity
is ridiculous and beautiful.
They are holding themselves
hostage until I figure out
how to seduce them
onto the page. Reaching out
to grab them by the skinny
wrist, I come away with
ink all over my hands,
and still they are laughing.
Elusive and daring, skipping
themselves like flat stones,
they spark precocious
and brilliant as lilies,
fresh-faced and wearing
a thousand tiny bells.
When I grow quiet,
curiosity overtakes them
and they creep closer
to peer over my shoulder,
suddenly shy and pleased
to find themselves there,
perching comfortable
as dark impish constellations
whispering to each other
then finally composing themselves.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


From Occupy, a post about a group that buys debt to cancel it, and creates information on debt resistance...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Link: Handwriting

I've been posting all the intriguing non-math links I find at my facebok page. But the problem with that is it's really hard to search on facebook. I'm going to try to come back here.

North Carolina and South Carolina have pending bills in the legislature to require that cursive handwriting be taught. Diane Ravitch posted on her blog a letter from a handwriting expert, Kate Gladstone, explaining why this is wrong, and how a legislator gave false testimony.