How to Throw a Bookworm Baby Shower

PART_1437411309730_DSC_0007I’m not big on ceremonies that require a whole lot of pomp or tradition just for the sake of tradition (i.e. weddings, baby showers). Yes, even if they are my own. This probably makes me the least sentimental writer out there, but so you have it.

I knew I needed to have a baby shower though because I needed a lot of things for two babies, so I wanted to ensure it reflected me in some way. And however it reflected me needed to be something I planned to pass down to my chil’en. Thus, books became the theme.

The entire idea came together in pieces, but it all turned out pretty good. I think it started with the awesome books my roomies gifted me for my girls at the horror con.

Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a great addition to any child's book collection. Funny and unique
Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a unique addition to any child’s book collection.

To throw your own bookworm baby shower, here are the necessary components of such a shindig:

One pregnant chick:

Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare at it too long and you'll turn to stone.
Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare too long and you’ll turn to stone.

Two impending bookworms (or one in most cases):

If you look close, you can see their designations at the top. 'Baby A' and 'Baby B'
‘Baby A’ on the left and ‘Baby B’ on the right

Bookworms galore in the décor:

PART_1437411334193_DSC_0006

11759624_10200685086686489_23345452_n

bookworms
We cut a gajillion of these cute little worms out.

Bookmark party favors:

FOTAA4B
Got the idea for these badboys from Pinterest

Books (duh):

FOT139

PART95143741164140895DSC950001

We used books underneath the colorful centerpieces my sister made, and the diaper raffle prize was even a book.

People:

PART_1437411463178_DSC_0012
Well…there were a lot more people inside.

To humor your ridiculous love of books that you will either lovingly pass down to the next generation or shove down their throats.

Some of the excellent books we received for the girls in lieu of cards:

  • Animalia by Graeme Base
Probably my favorite illustrated children’s book. Pictures cannot do the book’s detail and thought justice
  • The Time Cat series by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You and On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales
This is a gorgeous leather bound edition my sister-in-law got us for the girls.
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
  • The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  • The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
  • Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

    baby lit
    This pretty and colorful collection of ‘Baby Lit’ is from a high school best friend
pandp
The illustrations are beautiful and the structure perfect for primer books, specifically counting primers or opposites primers

There you have it, folks. All you need for a bona fide bookworm baby shower.

Stephen King: The Metallica of Literature

*If you know nothing of Stephen King’s Carrie, this may contain a spoiler or two. 

Carrie Metallica

Hypothesis

Not to make generalizations here, but almost everyone likes Metallica. Fine. Let me correct my hyperbole: the vast majority of people who have heard them like at least one Metallica song. Stephen King is like the Metallica of literature; he is accessible, even to those readers who don’t particularly care for horror, just as Metallica is enjoyed by people that prefer all types of music to metal. My best friend is a self-professed pop and top 40 lover. I’ve had coworkers and acquaintances which were hardcore fans of rap and others fans of country, predominately. What do they have in common? Well, none of them would say they really enjoyed metal, but they all also liked Metallica. Maybe they aren’t Metallica fans, but they enjoyed the music. Something about Metallica is accessible. Maybe it is in James Hetfield’s just gritty enough voice, or in Kirk Hammet’s and Hetfield’s just catchy enough riffs that are metal while employing easy-to-nod-your-head-to (otherwise known as head-banging) time signatures, so as to have you belting out Enter Sandman while in the car with grandma.

No offense to the hardcore or longtime Metallica fans. I can appreciate their less accessible, complex work from the early days and their recent return to that sound with Death Magnetic (know nothing of the newest album). But the fact is, some of their music is more popular among the masses, just as authors sometimes tap into exactly what the public unwittingly desires at a given moment (YA dystopian, right now. Who knew?). I am not saying that accessibility here means tame horror in King’s case or less profound music in Metallica’s. Merely, that King and Metallica both have something to offer those who don’t dabble in these sometimes intimidating genres.

This post is not a foray into music history; I’m not enough of an expert–or any kind of expert, really–on music or Metallica to claim that. It’s about Stephen King. The point is King’s horror is accessible. That is why people consider it popular literature. Does that mean it has less literary value? No, just the opposite. There are moments in his work that leave you in awe, leave you thinking, this guy knows how to spin a yarn, or, THIS GUY knows how to tap into the human experience, all stardust and muck that it is. And because he can appeal to a wide audience with deep human themes and superior writing that often characterizes literary fiction, he repeatedly presides at the top of bestseller lists.

Opposition

There is some misconception out there that popularity means less respectable or that one is only truly successful as an artist if they are obscure and only appeal to a select group of refined taste. But that’s just not true.

King has a story for everyone, a tone, a theme, and speaks in the language of the everyman. A well-read, damn talented everyman albeit. That is how Stephen King is like the Metallica of literature. Who could make any kind of argument that Metallica, millionaires they are now, aren’t talented even though they’re popular?

The People’s Exhibit A

Where do I take this pain of mine / I run, but it stays right my side / So tear me open, pour me out / There’s things inside that scream and shout / And the pain still hates me /  So hold me, until it sleeps / Just like the curse, just like the stray / You feed it once, and now it stays / So tear me open, but beware / There’s things inside without a care / And the dirt still stains me / So wash me, until I’m clean

–from “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica

Poetry. And universal. Of course you can’t hear it, but you’ve heard them. So you know.

Okay, back to King.

After listening to Carrie on audiobook in my 2015-read-King’s-first-5-books goal, I erroneously assumed it would be boring, that I wouldn’t enjoy it because I’d already seen the two movies and therefore knew the premise. But the truth is, I didn’t know that King’s first book could be so powerful. As I admit in this article for Unnoffical Stephen King Month over at Dark Moon Digest, upon writing it, I had only ever read the beginning two books—terrifying in their own right—of the Dark Tower Series and On Writing, so I knew he was good. But I didn’t think this storyline, which I had assumed was common knowledge, could be so magnificently written, that it could be rife with lessons on storytelling for writers. The thing is, the movies can’t hold a candle to the subplots and tension that King weaves into the novel’s coarse threads. For one, the cinema always goes with a pretty lead and that’s just not the case in King’s version, which makes a big difference. I could go on with other things the movies don’t quite capture, but primarily, in the novel, we see more of Carrie’s rage as it builds and builds to eventually explode in the natural disaster that it does in the end.

The People’s Exhibit B

“Let the streets be filled with the smell of their sacrifice. Let this place be called racca, icahbod, wormwood.

Flex.

And power transformers atop lightpoles bloomed into nacreous purple light, spitting Catherine-wheel sparks. High tension wires fell into the street in pick-up-sticks tangles…”

–from Carrie, Chapter 17

Need I even defend my choice of this excerpt as proof that King’s masterful storytelling is enough to turn any horror naysayer into a believer in its power, at the very least?

This novel has shown me ‘fear in a handful of dust’. Carrie gives us a sheltered and strange girl, mocked and tortured all of her life, and shows us the monsters we construct out of the very darkest parts of ourselves. Carrie shows us that our stories continue being written long after we’re gone, our monsters shaped and molded to the will and needs of those that survive us, regardless of what we wanted to be remembered by.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t like horror, you should give Stephen King a try. He offers a wide buffet, and a few of the dishes really must be sampled before writing him or the entire genre off. He is, after all, a student of human nature, writing about all of its highs and terrifying lows. Stephen King, like Metallica, is a gateway to his genre, a key master to the realm of horror. You don’t have to like being scared or uncomfortable, or like gore to connect with his characters and their startlingly, terrifyingly real circumstances.

Do you agree that Stephen King is accessible horror? Do you know of other authors or works that fit this characterization of gateway to the horror genre? Please recommend them so that we can show the horror-haters there’s really not all that much to fear. 😉

 

Some other enlightening posts on this grave matter:

Thoughts On IT by Stephen King, What it Takes to Enjoy Horror, and Why I Write It

Again, Annie Neugebauer’s 3 Amazing Horror Authors and Why You Should Read Them

Fellow Unnofficial Stephen King Month contributors:

From Nowhere to Geekdom

Stephen King, My Personal Savior

Organic King

And just for fun:

King Still Digs Metal

Fifty Shades of Grey Denuded

~Two Avid, Intelligent Readers Discuss Fifty Shades of Grey~
Warnings: This post contains mature content and has spoilers.

As though you didn't know what the cover looked like
As though you didn’t know what the cover looked like

The Controversy that Binds (heh)

The idea for this blog derived from a recent conversation I had with OstiumUnity, contributing, opinionated author and fellow reader (hereafter referred to as Lisa) after the preview for the movie aired and we decided to reread the novel. Also, Annie Neugebauer’s post “Why I’m Tired of People Ragging on Twilight“[1] got the old wheels turning on bandwagons and the blind hatred of popular books on risqué matters (i.e. spanking billionaires and sparkly vamps). Not only am I tired of people hating on E.L. James’s debut novel without even ever having read it, but even of the people who have read it, take a chill pill! I understand not being interested in reading a romance, or a book that explores the BDSM lifestyle—however tamely—but don’t hate on it for being those things.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a provocative novel–obviously not the first of its genre, but currently, one of the most well-known. It gets people asking questions and that’s why literature lives on, right? Not that Fifty can be considered “Literature”, but we’ll get to that. For instance, people have suggested that the novel promotes violence toward women (I don’t think it does). The novel also gets people examining related issues, like the possibility of a normal relationship growing out of this type of arrangement. But I want to delve into the mechanisms of hatred and fanfare intertwined with the reception of this novel, and also get to the bottom of this question: “why were these books so successful, and what can I learn from that?”[2] The fact is, E. L. James tapped into a previously unexplored demographic, and whether luck or fate catapulted her into popularity, she’s there. The whole of the female population cannot all be idiots for reading it, as many have claimed. So let’s not write off the female reading population as female-authored books are often done because they are deemed frivolous, inconsequential and shallow. Let’s give women more credit than that by exploring what faults are overlooked by readers in favor of what attributes. But of course, as a fellow writer who doesn’t want to come off as jealous, I can’t, in good form, give James the critique of her life without raising the novel’s virtues to the microscope as well (haters need to deal with it. And don’t be so jealous, it makes your face look ugly).

Before opening the dialogue/critique, I want to preface that for me to talk of these characters as though I know them, I have to feel something for them, and I do. But, essentially, what follows is discussion of the things that drove me through my first read of the book, and the things that made me feel hollow throughout my second read, the things that made us, my fellow reader, Lisa, and I, at our worst moments, consider the novels “inconsistent slabs of quivering lunacy”–Lisa’s words. At our best moments, we calmly stepped back and tried to analyze, to disassemble so we could better understand how the novel ‘works’ when put back together.

fifty mag
This certainly ‘works’

The Good

For a romance, this book almost derails the genre’s expected formula, as it does not culminate in the ultimate feel good conclusion. This first installment necessarily leads to a series, ending with a dramatically convenient cliffhanger that is resolved two weeks later at the start of Fifty Shades Darker. Slightly annoying, but I did appreciate the unexpected end and the reality of the bumpy—sometimes mountainous—road these characters must undertake to mutual contentment.

It boils down to a sweet romance about people coming together with their own fears and ghosts from the past through their daily relationship-building interactions. While Ana really has to work out her inconsistent feelings of inadequacy, Christian’s journey as a character is an admirable—albeit unrealistic—one.

Sometimes great dialogue—good character interaction

For anyone ignorant to the mechanisms of BDSM, the novel pulls the curtain back to give you a little, though perhaps slightly watered-down, romanticized peek at new and potentially exciting ways to conceive sex and sexual fantasies

Uses technology to develop the relationship—their email exchanges are fun, flirty, and insinuating—as mentioned above. The stuff of epic romance—well, maybe not epic. Contemporary though, yes.

E. L. James has the best friend thing down. Writers can appreciate this, surely. Lisa pointed out that “Ana is one of the few romantic female leads that I’ve ever read that actually WANTS to discuss what’s going on with her best friend.” She wants feedback.

Anastasia has issues with accepting this lifestyle, though she’s intrigued by it. And that’s realistic and good. Though I disdain the lack of penetrating inner dialogue (just trust that I am aware of every pun), there is one particular scene after Anastasia has read the contract wherein her consideration of Christian’s proposal is a truly plaintive inner dialogue despairing what she cannot have, what she thinks Christian does not want to give her.

“He doesn’t look back. I close the door and stand helpless in the living room…For the first time ever, I feel lonely and uncomfortable…unhappy with my own company. Have I strayed so far from who I am? I know that lurking, not very far under my rather numb exterior, is a well of tears. What am I doing? I have fallen fro someone who’s so emotionally shut down, I will only get hurt–deep down I know this–someone who by his own admission is completely fucked up. Why is he so fucked up? Perhaps if he was more normal he wouldn’t want you…and in my heart of hearts I know this is true.”

–Fifty Shades of Grey

This melancholic uncertainty resonates on a human level with readers. And I posit that this, this humanity is what reverberates with readers and stirs them into a frenzy. Women couldn’t just read a book of sex and enjoy it unless there were some emotions being played upon, no matter how much it tapped into deep-seated fantasies—that would be tripe.

A word from Lisa on the treatment of the romantic feminine stereo-type: “James takes an innocent virgin and drops her smack dab in the middle of a very lustful and violent lifestyle. Ana has her reservations and fears, but for the most part she likes it. For the first time in mainstream fiction (that I’ve seen), James dared to write a female character that preferred rough sex, fucking, as opposed to making love. People argue this book advocates the bad treatment of women, but I believe it proves that even the most innocent of women knows what she wants and goes for it and isn’t afraid to break some of the rules of “normal” sex. That’s kind of empowering.” Not only is Ana an intelligent—if not a bit dense—ambitious, strong, and emotionally developed leading lady, she is sensual. “After all, in the end Christian re-defines his life for her, not the other way around. Ana lets herself be dominated, but not controlled. She sets boundaries and leaves Christian when she becomes convinced that he will be unable to respect them, or find his own satisfaction in them.”

I think this flipping the script on gender-roles, sexism in literature, and the prevalence of the bygone “angel in the house” theory is a great achievement of Fifty. Are there other issues with the novel that keep it from being a great literary achievement itself? Sure.

The Bad

 • Sometimes not so great dialogue, and specially not great inner dialogue. Ana does not linger on things long enough. Sometimes you want a more in-depth reaction to something, and it’s completely absent—with a few exceptions like when she reads the contract and when Grey first punishes her.

Lack of clear character motivation/character inconsistency. Lisa laid it out best with this break down:

“Ana goes from naturally submissive and painfully shy, to snarky and independent, then willing to try his life style, then to completely unwilling, to curious, to insistent that she deserves better, to soooo in love that nothing matters anymore.”

Another quandary Lisa and I have beef with is that Ana has low self-esteem something fierce, and yet she acknowledges every man who throws himself at her. “Christian notices it too and she never argues with him. It gives her such false humility that it’s disgusting. And despite all the kinky fuckery, by book three she still can’t say the word vagina, it’s always ‘down there’ or ‘that place’.” Maybe this is an issue with too much character consistency. News flash, Ana: Your innocent card has been played and torn to shreds. It’s time to accept your newfound maturity and sexual awakening.

Every book has its thorns, and I’m sure we’re all in agreement on this one: The freaking inner goddess. But the typical criticisms about the writing have more to do with character flaws, like Ana’s inner-goddess, which seems to grow innocently enough from some references to her subconscious in the beginning but then turns into this disease of Ana being unable to just feel the damn things herself. Regarding the charges of horrific writing quality, yes, James’s writing quality is not stellar by any means, but it’s not all bad. The novel actually boasts some nice, crisp sentences, and does something I like, which is gives the reader some geography: how a room is laid out, the way a person’s sitting, where their eyes are looking.

The Ugly

In their criticisms, people are too unforgiving with idiosyncrasies. Lisa points out that “the lip biting is often mentioned as subconscious to Ana, and also is a point of eroticism for Christian, so of course attention is drawn to it. Christian shows frustration by pulling his fingers through his hair.” Plain and simple. Everyone has idiosyncrasies, including every writer (which must mean that James’s is repetition). So though the reviews poking fun at these things can be quite hilarious, they’re really neither here nor there.

The blatant repetition of entirely unnecessary things begs the question though: Why didn’t they catch this in the editing/publishing process? It comes down to someone clearly having dropped the ball on polishing, and James should have done a couple more drafts before publishing, or at least yoked a couple of content readers.

Anyone else feel a little miffed by the fact that this novel is obviously so little changed from James’s fanfic idea, and therefore from the Twilight characters? True, Edward was never a sadist billionaire CEO, but that and the fact that the supernatural element is gone is about all that’s changed. It’s a recycled idea. She even keeps things that Edward said to Bella in the Twilight series verbatim: “Breathe, [insert character’s name].” And while James desperately tries to hold onto characteristics of Edward and Bella in these ‘new’ characters, rather than letting them take on their own life, that’s when they fall flat—like Ana inexplicably being self-conscious, believing herself unworthy of male attention, yet acknowledges that three—later four—men aside from Christian want her. But hell, whatever, it’s her own idea to recycle if she wants. Except that it’s not. It’s kind of plagiarism.

 And I don’t even want to get into the blatant racial stereotyping with José

The BDSM Factor

While it’s true that “mainstream fiction had not yet touched upon the subject. [James] brought this subject to the forefront of popular literature, started a whole new sub-genre that awakened the erotic curiosity of many ‘vanilla’ women”. However, Lisa also has some valid points regarding the negative portrayal of BDSM in the novel:
“I don’t think James is necessarily looking in depth to it. It’s arguable of course, but it seemed, to me anyway, that she took a rudimentary understanding of a BDSM relationship and made it her own unique thing. If anything, she bastardized it, made it even more taboo because Christian is how he is because of a heavily emphasized traumatized childhood that resulted in the absolute need to control all things, almost to the level of OCD, that manifested into BDSM as a result of an older ‘cougar’ archetype taking advantage of him through a relationship that was actually illegal considering Christian was not of consenting age. Now, in the first book, even the second, James kind of leaves it up to the reader to determine what you think of the ‘Mrs. Robinson’ character. You can choose to hate and blame her for Christian’s preconceived faults like Ana does, or you can agree with Christian when he insists she gave him a way to control the chaos of his traumatized mind. However, in the third book, James make very clear HER opinion of the matter when the truth of their relationship is revealed to Christian’s family and ‘Mrs. Robinson’ is ostracized because of it. And also through a couple of key conversations Ana has with Christian’s psychologist, the reader gets the idea that James feels like the BDSM relationship is an aberration that Ana cured through her unconditional love.”

Despite the flaws and the hate, this novel did something amazing for whatever exploration of the BDSM subject/lifestyle it undertook by transforming it into a timeless romance. I have to feel a modicum of awe at what E.L. James has accomplished in the publishing industry.

Tell me I’m crazy. Tell me I’m looking at it with too critical of an eye–a fellow writer’s eye and perhaps always with a bit of why-not-me envy–or concur, or hell, argue your own point(s). What do you think?

~Footnotes~

[1] Her post, “Fifty Shades of Grey, a Discussion“, is a nice crash course in the novel with a handy mini-summary and definitions.

[2] Question taken from the “Fifty Shades of Grey, a Discussion” post by Annie Neugebauer, under “A Final Thought for Writers”

Would a book by any other name read just as sweet?

pt3

This post focuses on  the pros and cons of spending $20 on a 6 month subscription to Psychology Today to illustrate the point of the title. But please don’t leave yet assuming it will boring! I mean, it might be, but I need your help. The reason I’m even having this decision snafu is because when I mentioned I was going to buy a subscription to this magazine, my boyfriend furrowed his brow at me. He furrowed his brow at me! I’m like, ‘what does that mean’? He’s like, ‘I’m sure there are plenty of free psychology articles on the internet, but whatever.’

So, naturally, this sent me into a fight or flight decision-making process. I know $20 isn’t that much money, relatively speaking, and you’re probably thinking ‘just buy the damn subscription!’ But there are a number of other factors that I’m obsessing about with this. Do I spend $20 on 6 issues of this beautiful, alluring, and—oh yeah, informative magazine? Or should I just be realistic and look for articles online?

pt 4

Here are the cons:

1. I already have a reading list that could wrap around the moon at least twice. And my apartment is packed full of old Writer’s Digests and books, only half of which are on said reading list. I should really start to consider making the books I already have priority on my Goodreads to-read list. *Sigh*

2. So you know those old Writer’s Digests I mentioned in #1? Yeah, that’s part of the problem. I have been known to hoard. So if I get these Psychology Todays, whose to say they won’t be layering my kitchen table like a second coat of lacquer at any given moment? The question is will I be able to exorcise myself of their hold, even if I have read everything they have to offer and have no further use of them?

3. I could always look for articles online. The bf is right.

pt1

Here are the pros:

1. I love psychology and I am interested in learning more. I love giving my characters psychological disorders, though never lightly. I especially love weaving it into my horror pieces, so it would be like research really. Right?

2. Not only good research, but it could provide untold amounts of inspiration for future pieces.

3. Finally, I could always find articles online, but this magazine is an art form of sorts, its form being derived from that of books and pamphlets–some of the first mass-produced literature. There are editors that put together relevant articles under an organizing theme geared toward a certain audience. And I want to be part of that audience.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?
Are you starting to see the pattern here?

A final point that is neither pro nor con: Would I have this same dilemma about buying a book that I wanted to read? Why is a $20 commitment to six issues of a magazine a more involved decision-making process? I think I would, at my age and level of frugality, have the same reservations about buying another book to add to my apocalypse-preparedness hoard of books. However, given that this is an entirely different arena of reader-consumption with more potential to benefit me, why the internal struggle about it? Maybe you’ve decided I should just get the damn subscription in the hopes of one day diagnosing myself to understand why this poses such a quandary for me. Either way, I want to hear your thoughts.

Is format, theme, and the compilation of words and images–with some advertisements thrown in, of course–on a subject you’re interested in worth a six or twelve month commitment? While magazines are a dying art, what with the advent of the internet, people still read them on their i-pads and tablets and enjoy their layout.

Do you subscribe to any magazines or even literary magazines? Do you like reading your week or month’s worth of short stories in lit mag format or do you prefer to take it in piecemeal? Why?  Or are there particular magazines you read just because you love the editor (I love the editor for Writer’s Digest so much, I even read her Editor’s Note!)? Is this form less important, appealing, spend-thrifty, or “green” than books or more so?