Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Room, by Emma Donoghue

"I think 'buddy' is man-talk for 'sweetie.'" - Room (approximate quote)

Jack is five. He lives in Room with Ma and Table and Bed and Rocker and Door, plus a few other things. Room is 11 feet by 11 feet, and beyond it is Outside. There are things that are real (Room), and everything else is TV (stores, ice cream, cars, etc). Jack has to "switch off" before Watch says 9:00 inside Wardrobe each night in case Old Nick comes. One day, Ma tells Jack that some of the things (not Dora and Spongebob, but some things) in TV are real, and they need to escape.

This book is terrifying. This book is heart-breaking. This book is amazing.

I first read about it on NPR, and when I mentioned it to my dad, he said "Tell me they get out. I don't care what actually happens, just tell me that they get out." (Spoiler- they do. In fact, the last half of the book takes place Outside as both Jack and his mother try to adjust.)

Sharon (Ma) actually does a really impressive job raising him in such an environment. I don't want to go into too much detail about what actually happens, because part of the book's greatness is slowly discovering all of the little details of their life, and then later all of the details of our lives that a five year old raised in near-solitary confinement wouldn't take for granted.

It's written entirely from Jack's perspective, and it's written that way very, very well. (I grew up 100 yards from a highway, so his narration reminds me of how for the longest time when I was little there was the Sound of Outside, and then for some reason when we went other places Outside was quieter.)

What I loved about it even more, though, is that Sharon's own difficulties and worries were not ignored, even though they were incomprehensible to her son.

Room: A Novel is not a book for people who prefer light-hearted things. I highly recommend it to everyone else. It's very serious, of course, but Jack's narration combined with both his and Sharon's (re)discovery of the world (particularly the scene in which she discovers Facebook and YouTube) makes it funny and relatable as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Best School-Year Ever

"Friends and good manners will carry you where money won't go." - Margaret Walker
When I was in elementary school, there was an experimental class with both 4th and 5th graders who had been deemed "independent learners." My best friend was in this class as a 4th grader, and she was always talking about how awesome it was. I wanted in, so I wrote a letter to the principal outlining my reasons why she should put me in it the following year. Some time later, my parents were called in for a conference, and my request was accepted.
It was everything I had hoped for. My mother, on the other hand, was...disappointed. We ignored the curriculum to the point that I may as well have skipped that grade in terms of things we were supposed to be learning. We created to-scale models of the solar system. I drew Kansas for a wall-sized map of the country that was sadly never completed. We designed class currency, paid rent for our desks and cubbies, and "bought" stocks using actual data from the current market. We were told to research anything we wanted and then present our findings in any way we wanted.
Second semester, we moved out into one of the mobile classrooms and things got even better. We ate lunch in our classroom rather than the cafeteria almost every day, playing cards and Clue. Our "morning work" consisted of problems such as "elf + elf = fool" (each letter represents a different number, and you have to use logic to figure out their values), only ours were often 5-digit multiplication. Sometimes we spent the entire day working on them. Our afternoons were taken up with brain teasers, and we once had a class-wide "learn to blow bubbles with gum" session.
Group projects were the most common assignment--designing and creating a miniature theme park, or building a Greek temple. At recess, our teacher played with us rather than sitting on a bench and watching, and when we were back in class he would read aloud. When it came time for middle school recommendations, nearly everyone skipped two grades in math.
My mom says I didn't learn anything (and the program was pretty much eliminated the following year). But I would argue that in some ways I learned more in that class than I have in any other either before or since.
I learned about teamwork. I learned about people. I learned to problem-solve in creative ways, and I learned critical thinking both inside the box and outside of it. I learned about Powerpoint (Good God, did I learn about Powerpoint). The more linguistic brain teasers taught me how to play with words. There was such a sense of unity. If I could have the rest of my schooling be like that (with a bit more "here, go this way," since sometimes curriculum really is important), I would be indescribably happy.
Some of our projects never came to fruition, so it could be argued that my teacher was too idealistically ambitious, but I firmly believe that if we had been able to continue like that (and I so would have gone to school through the summer if I could have stayed there), we could have finished them, and they would have been amazing.
Now it is too idealistically ambitious (and naive) to make that sort of education nation-wide, and it probably isn't the best model for every student, but...if only. This ties into a TED talk I watched several months ago and something my dad and I were discussing this morning, but those are posts for another day, and I have homework I need to do before the photo shoot I'm helping with tonight.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"These people are wrong."

‎"THE MAGIC AND THE DANGER OF FICTION IS THIS: it allows us to see through other eyes. It takes us to places we have never been, allows us to care about, worry about, laugh with, and cry for people who do not, outside of the story, exist. There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong." - Neil Gaiman

Have I mentioned that Neil Gaiman is my middle-aged-man crush? (Don't laugh-my sister's is on one of our local weathermen.) But hey. The man deserves it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Year Anniversary

"Maturity is knowing you were an idiot in the past...wisdom is know you will be an idiot in the future...and common sense is knowing that you should try not to be an idiot now." - The webcomic Questionable Content (the most recent installment as of now is a guest comic, so it's not representative of the thing as a whole--it's really good, trust me)

Today is the second anniversary of this blog, so I figured I'd better post something. I like to save my sappy reflections for New Year's, though, so I'll just say that I appreciate the comments all of you leave, and I'm glad to be acquainted with you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Five, Going On Sixteen

"All men are equal before fish." - Herbet Hoover

I was not going to write anything today. I was young enough ten years ago that I have very little to say. But then I thought that that is perhaps something of a unique perspective. Too young to be told everything, too young to really understand, but old enough to remember.

My uncle used to work in the Pentagon. Yes, on that side. He managed to find a working pay phone by the time I got home from school, so I was spared from the worst of my family's terror.

I remember the teachers whispering. I remember a boy (his name was Adam) from another class who had overheard their conversations shouting the news out to the rest of us. I remember a brief moment of anxiety, and I remember reassuring myself that bad things only happened to other families, as awful of a thought as that is. I remember staring thoughtfully at the American flag hanging over the board for the rest of the afternoon, to which we pledged our allegiance every morning at 9:15. "Terrorist" was added to my vocabulary.

There are people, both under 10 and over, who ask "What's 9/11?". There are people like my sisters who simply don't remember that day. And then there are people--many, many people--who will never forget. 

I haven't watched any of the news coverage today; that's for the adults. That's for the people who remember more than a few vague images and impressions. I read a book earlier this year, however, called Love is the Higher Law (by David Levithan) about several teenagers living in NYC in the days following after, which I found incredibly moving. It was strange to read about people only slightly older than I am now, dealing with the problems my location and age had miraculously allowed me to avoid. It put things in perspective more than anything I've read in the past few weeks.

My dad called my uncle today. He is redoing the drywall in his hallway. "I love you," my dad said as they neared the end of their conversation. "I love you too," my uncle replied. "Thanks for calling, bro."

Saturday, September 10, 2011


"I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn't." -  Kurt Cobain

I just discovered a really cool app that I can't use (because it's only for iPhone and iPad), but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. It's by, which creates soundtracks for ebooks. The software knows which page you're on, and which music/sound effects/ambience to play on that spread. It even tracks your reading pace based on how often you flip pages so that it knows approximately where you are on the page (and there are ways to pause it, of course).

Among those either available or coming soon are a Sherlock Holmes novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, an Oscar Wilde story, Huckleberry Finn, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," Three Musketeers, "The Ugly Duckling," and...the sequel to I Am Number Four.

Okay then. I guess it was effective in rocketing them into the NY Times.

But still. That's really cool. I just hope they expand their platforms soon so that us non-Apple Drones can use it. Their FAQ pdf says it "will be available" on computer operating systems, Android, and "other devices," so...I'm bookmarking it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Abundance of Quotes Part God I Don't Care Anymore

"Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries." - Moby Dick (which I am not reading), found in and stolen from Paper Covers Rock (which I read twice in one week).

“Books may look like nothing more than words on a page, but they are actually an infinitely complex imaginotransference technology that translates odd, inky squiggles into pictures inside your head.” - Jasper Fforde

"Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well." - Voltaire

"The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong." - Swami Vivekanada (who has an awesome name)

"Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong." - Oscar Wilde

Update: The Event has been set for October 22nd.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Which I Gain Writer-Cred

“Writing: a scrupulous attempt to preserve something, to make something last–plucking a few exact fragments from the deepening void, leaving somewhere or other a furrow, a trace, a mark, a few signs.” - Georges Perec

My sister's friend's mom, who works at a library in my county's system I've never been to, knows a lady at that same library who is putting together an Event. And yes, the capitalization is important.

My sister's friend's mom mentioned me to this lady, and I have been invited to be a Formal Presenter at a Panel regarding NaNoWriMo, publication, and "my writing process" along with one other teenage author (who may or may not be "properly" published, which is a maybe I find a bit intimidating).

This Event is actually part of a series of programming designed to inform adults and teenagers about the writing and publication process, with a special focus on NaNoWriMo.

And I have been asked to Speak. I am a Panelist. I am a Presenter. I am a "Formal" Presenter. It is going to take some time to process this.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Killing Time

"Killing time isn't as difficult as it sounds. I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hands tick tick tick their final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I've been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind." - Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi