Monday, March 25, 2013

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

September is a very bored little girl.  Her father has shipped off to war and her mother is raising her alone.  Her mother works all day repairing engines in a factory.  They live in Nebraska, where there is nothing for a little girl like September to do.  She wishes endlessly to be taken off to Fairyland like so many bored children before her.  One day, while she is washing teacups, that wish comes true and September gets a visit from the Green Wind, riding on the Leopard of Little Breezes. They take her away to Fairyland, where she has the most amazing adventures.

The characters in this book are so unavoidably likable, despite their faults.  September is repeatedly called heartless, but we know she isn’t.  She is sometimes said to be selfish, but she is nowhere near it.  Even the villain is likable in her ability to be such a fantastic fairy tale villain.  Sure, she’s an evil ruler, but she’s just a kid.  An angry one at that. Of course the friends September makes along the way are the most wonderful friends anyone could ever hope to make. There's A-through-L, a Wyvern and Saturday, a marid, and of course Gleam, a kind-hearted paper lantern.

Valente is an exceptional writer.  She creates a Fairyland that is both familiar and fantastically strange.  Her imagination has run wild all over the pages of this book, and it’s a really, really mind-blowing imagination.  It’s not often that a writer can create a world so complete and easy to visualize.  Her descriptions are lush and vivid, even describing colors in more depth than I thought was possible.  It helps that she loves some of the same things that I do, like autumn and pumpkins and green smoking jackets, which she spends extra time applying her loving pen to.  Her vocabulary is luscious and so needed in books for young readers.

It’s impossible for me to write this review without pointing out the obvious fact that female characters like September are so needed in children’s literature.  September is an amazing little girl.  She makes friends easily and defends them without a thought.  She literally travels to the ends of the earth (without shoes, no less) to save them, and she does it alone.  She is willing to sacrifice everything for them. There’s no annoying underlying romance to it, as there is in other popular kids books.

It also helps that September is being raised by wrench-wielding, do-it-yourself mother, though we get only get small pieces of the woman she is. September
doesn’t get her strength from anyone but herself, which, like most of us, she has to learn along the way." target="_new">Buy it indie!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk

I first heard of Paleofantasy when our rep from WW Norton, David Goldberg, came in to the bookstore to talk about some upcoming releases.  Naturally I snatched up the book as though everyone in the room would immediately lunge for it, but, as usual, my co-workers just stared at me.  It’s no secret that I love science, but this whole paleo-diet trend that’s been making the rounds has made me even more passionate about my desire to see science finally being taken into account before anyone jumps on the paleo-bandwagon.  

Paleo-dieters and lovers of the caveman lifestyle believe that homosapiens stopped evolving some time around moving into caves and that modern man is not fit for our current lifestyle.  They blame all manner of diseases on the idea that humans were not meant to live as we do now and that agriculture is killing us.  Marlene Zuk, a biologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, argues that evolution doesn’t stop and to argue that we were “meant” to do something is an argument that evolution has some kind of end goal, which is a little ridiculous. Zuk combines biology and anthropology to disprove many of the myths that paleo-lifestyles are based on.  Although we don't know exactly how early man lived, Zuk dispels the most common ideas through meticulous research and, best of all, science.

This book isn’t an attack on paleo-lovers, it’s a scientific answer to the believe that we’d all be better off as hunter-gatherers.  In many cases the arguments made about caveman lifestyle are not true to begin with, so there is no reason to believe that living that way now will be any healthier.  Zuk’s overall point was that there is no one way that cave-dwellers lived.  There were multiple societies, each with their own way of living and eating.  For example, Zuk explains how our ability to digest dairy and grains has been a recent(relatively speaking) product of evolution.  However, there is evidence to suggest that some groups of early-man did eat grains or dairy, while others didn’t.  Paleo-enthusiasts may be healthy because they make an effort to exercise and not eat processed foods, but not because they don’t eat grains or abstain from dairy.

Zuk isn’t on a mission to make paleo-people feel bad, or ruin their dreams of caveman rockstardom; her only desire is to shed some light on the science behind the the trends.  In some cases, there is scientific evidence to back up the healthfulness of paleo-lifestyles.  For example, barefoot runners run differently than those in sneakers and tend to suffer fewer injuries.  In terms of child-rearing, there seems to be a case for raising children with alloparenting, letting a newborn set it’s own eating and sleeping schedule, and keeping the child either in, or near the parents’ bed.  

Paleofantasy is a fascinating and accessible read that I had trouble putting down.  This book shows that while it’s no secret that many of our modern problems are caused by poor lifestyle choices, that doesn’t mean we all need to give up eyeglasses, stop eating quinoa, and give blood as often as possible to try and imitate the life we think (without any real scientific evidence) cavemen may have lived. 
Buy it indie!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Why I suck at blogging

So I guess you're expecting a blog post about an awesome new book I read.  Well, I did read an awesome new book and I was all set to write a post about it yesterday and have t up today.  The book is called Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk and I loved it.  I loved it so much my brain was filled with hearts and stars while I read it.  But, I didn't write a post about it.  I am now going to be super-lame and explain my day yesterday, chock full of First World Problems.

It all started at 9am, when I was getting ready to leave for work.  I like to leave about an hour early so I have time to settle into the day and gauge the mood of everyone around me.  I got all of my stuff together and was about to walk out the door, when I realized my keys were not where I usually leave them.  Normally, I put them on the table next to the door.  I checked my coat pockets.  I checked my pants pockets.  I checked my backpack, the couch, the floor under the couch, the grocery bag from the day before, I even checked inside the fridge.  Nope.

Let me just stop here and explain that I never lose my keys.  I'm one of those annoyingly responsible people that always puts things away the moment I'm done using them.  After 15 minutes of looking, I finally texted my boyfriend to ask if he had picked them up for some sleep-induced, pre-coffee reason.  I was then able to locate the spare set of keys I didn't know I had and be on my way.  The clicker on it doesn't work, so when I got to the bookstore, I left the car unlocked and the alarm in valet mode so that I wouldn't need the clicker to get in.  Great.  Work.  Barely on time, but here.

I was scheduled to be in the kid's department all day, most of it by myself because of some staffing conflicts with other members of the kid's crew.  It was pretty busy and the customers seemed determined to make a mess the second I thought I was finished picking up.  My manager came in on his day off to lend a hand and things were going smoothly.  Then he got called away and I was on my own again.  None of this is a big deal, it just meant that I couldn't draft out a review for the book.  I thought that might happen, so I figured I'd just write it when I got home last night.

Fast forward to 7:08pm when my co-workers and I were getting out to our cars.  I grabbed the door handle and pulled.  Shit.  The car had locked itself, like the glitchy, resentful, little beast that it is.  I used my key to unlock it and, sure enough, the alarm went off.  An uncontrolled string of swears escaped my mouth.  I tried to start the car anyway, but of course that didn't work.  I tried waiting for it to stop, then starting it, but that just set it off again.  I pulled out the manual and found the part about the emergency shut-off button for the alarm.  My co-worker gave me a flashlight and I rooted around under the steering wheel looking for it, when the police show up.  I then explained what the heck I was doing with a flashlight under the steering wheel of a car with the alarm going off.  Another co-worker gave me a screwdriver to open my clicker and see if any of us had the same battery.  No such luck.

I figured I'd just buy a new battery, but the radio shack and the drug store were closed, so that left gas stations and supermarkets.  Finally, after trying every open store in town (so maybe 5, tops) my boyfriend had to come to town with my car keys (which it turns out he did take by accident, because he hates me and wants to ruin my life. Except not at all and it was just a long day) and disarm the alarm so we could go home.  It was probably 9pm when we finally got home, so there was no way I was writing a book review.  Sorry.

That's my lame story.  The point is, if you're thinking about moving to a really small town in Vermont, don't.  At least not without a working spare set of car keys.