29 September 2010

An Interesting Question about Story

Excuse my double negative, but I couldn't not repost this link from author Kate Elliott.  It's a wonderful piece that speaks to the timelessness of cyclic human history, with underlying suggestions about changing future history through family dynamics.

Kate Elliott is an American fantasy author whom I very much respect.  I've only read one series of hers, the Crown of Stars septology (I might have just invented a word...), but it was amazing and I look forward to reading her other work.  Her blog covers many topics, including writing, publishing, her books, her family, and pretty much anything that crosses her mind.  That last has led to a lot of interesting posts including my two favorites on the Bechdel test (very short) and epic fantasy (more complete).

If you haven't heard of it (and I hadn't before Elliott's post), the Bechdel test is a pretty simple sorting criteria for a story.  A story passes the Bechdel test if it:

  1. Has two named women
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than men.
*Note: the original test only asked for two female characters, but increasingly those who are concerned with such things modify it slightly to require that those characters be named.  The original source also only applied the test to movies, but it can easily be generalized to any story-telling medium.

Obviously, we could have great conversations about passing the test in spirit or in letter and the fact that passing or failing doesn't mean a story is bad or good, and Elliott's second entry above discusses these issues in better detail.  But it is an interesting measure of how society perceives gender balance and what we allow to go unnoticed.  We women certainly know that we're named and talk to each other about a wide variety of non-male centric topics.  So surely our story-telling arts reflect that, right?  Right?

I've always felt that my preferred genre, science fiction and fantasy, was more gender balanced than general fiction tends to be.  Looking through the lens of this test brings me to the realization that the difference is not nearly as wide as I once thought.  John Scalzi, an author whom I have not yet read but who writes a great blog and is a creative consultant on Stargate Universe (one of my favorite current shows), demonstrated this pretty dramatically with movies from the past 5 years.

So go ahead.  Apply the test to your favorite movies, TV shows, and books.  See what you get.  Find anything interesting?  Any patterns?  I'm thinking of starting a blog page with a running list of stories that I watch or read and whether they pass, both by spirit and letter.  What do you think?

28 September 2010

Links and My Already Long Week

Too agitated yesterday to post, even though I had a lot to say!  First, a couple of links to brighten your day:
Although they're worth watching, you can absorb most of the content through listening, so it's perfect for entertainment while you're chopping veggies for dinner.  :-)

I discovered TED Talks (the source of the links) about a week ago in my recent quest to update my understanding of the internet.  There is a lot going on in networking and education that is web-centric and that's a large part of what motivated me to start blogging.

So what's happening with me lately?  Still spending my time between classes relaxing, after a fashion.  I have a hard time being idle for long periods (notice my entire family laughing in the background and clarifying that "long periods" means an hour).  So in the last week or so, I have:

  • Repaired two shirt hems
  • Progressed on two more sewing projects (bench cushions and replacing the zipper on a shirt)
  • Finalized a cross-stitch design and started work on it (for a friend's wedding gift and I think I may have waited too long to finish in time...)
  • Made steady progress on The Way of Kings.  I'm on page 462 of 1007 and I hope to finish it by Saturday, before my next class starts.

The highlight of my week so far was the grocery run I made yesterday, wherein I got out of the store with a week's worth of groceries for $41.  That's right, terribly mundane, but what can I say?  The goal was $275 for groceries this month; we average about $305/month.  We've spent $241 at the commissary and subtracting $24 for dog food and treats leaves me at $227 for September. Barring any major milk crises this week, I think we're going to make it!  I recommend CouponMom for those of you who don't have a good source for printable coupons.

One last note: the older I get, the more I realize what a useful tool social etiquette can be when properly applied.  Beyond saying please and thank you, the phrase "I'm sorry but I have prior plans" is helping my psyche feel a lot better today.  ;-)

26 September 2010

The Awesomeness of Networking

After my earlier post about my book problem, I got great feedback in comments, email, Facebook, and even in person!  I got a lot of support and sympathy on trying to reduce my reading list from ladies who have the same problem... never let it be said that my friends aren't classy, literate people!  The most interesting idea, though, came from my friend Leah.  She suggests the following:
Give some of your "overflow" unread books to someone you trust and then when you are ready for a "new" book "order" it from them!
What a great idea!  I definitely had not considered this type of approach.  I'm very tempted to try this.  It doesn't force me to get rid of any books, making it more likely to succeed, and it makes me accountable to someone else, but in a fun way.  This could even involve setting a goal for myself: any book that I don't remember owning in a year goes away permanently.  I also suspect that my book-holding friend would notice what I do and don't ask for, which would help me make better buying decisions in the future.

I've actually had success with a similar system in the past.  In order to clean out my closet, I trick myself.  Anything that's a little worn out, the wrong size (big or small), doesn't look good, or that I suspect I don't wear goes into a box, which stays in my closet.  After a certain amount of time, if it hasn't come out of the box, it gets donated.  This has saved a lot of hassle over the last couple of years.  Speaking of which, it's about time that I did that again...

And before I forget, a friend of mine and her husband are expecting their first child and have a question about online gift registries. I know Amazon has a Universal Wish List service but maybe my friends who are moms have some better advice as well as some tips on what to put on a baby registry and what to avoid.  You can comment there (let her know that I referred you to her site) or I'd be happy to pass along any pearls of wisdom that you all have!  Thanks!

23 September 2010

Some Perspective

I spent part of the evening catching up on my favorite finance blog, Get Rich Slowly.  I hadn't read it in awhile because I've recently been simmering over my own financial state (more on this to come, probably next week).  That's a big mistake, of course; one of the criteria by which I choose my financial guides is how inspiring they are, to help keep me motivated on my own path.

In any case, reading through the backlog got me to this little gem: Banker to the Poor.  It's a bit long, but well written and definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read.  Personal finance is a topic of interest to me anyway, but micro-finance is increasingly grabbing my attention.  I feel like it's a cause I could give to, helping people help themselves (I'll discuss my issues with charities some other day).  Based on the review, this title is definitely going on my to-read shelf on Goodreads.

Discovery of a Problem

For those of you who aren't aware, I'm super anal retentive about, well, a lot of things (go ahead, laugh).  Chief among them is the fact that if a task is not on a list, it doesn't get done.  My husband often tells me, "Make a list, you'll feel better".  For the most part, this is a good thing.  Lots of studies show that you achieve more if you write down your goals, be it "save $10k" or "vacuum the house".  But today, my list making fetish got me in trouble.

You see, I keep a list of books that I'm reading.  Not just a list of titles to read, which I do have, but also a list of unread books that I own, with titles, authors, page counts, and dates that show what page I'm on.  I don't apologize, spreadsheets make me happy.  I've been doing this weekly since August of 2006.  And because I also have a tendency to play with numbers, I noticed something disturbing today.  See if you can spot it:

Pages:  Added       Read
2010     17,955     13,850
2009     14,308     17,713
2008     42,943     29,125
2007     17,350     22,441

As you can see, there's a serious problem.  On the whole, I'm adding more to my book collection than I'm reading, to the tune of about 9,400 pages.  I read an average of 23k pages a year, so I keep telling myself that I'll catch up eventually, that's it's good to have so many new books just in case (of what?  Libraries shutting down?  Amazon going out of business?).  I even expected to finish half of my unread books by the end of the year, which looks increasingly unlikely now (I tend to read the brand new books first, then go back to my collection).  So it's time to fix the system.

But what to do?  The first solution is to read more, but I just can't read for four or five hours per day.  I have too much to do and besides, that would get old very quickly.  I already tried to stop buying new books for awhile, but that has created a 5,000 page buying list backlog and seriously, have we met?

Thus, the best course of action is to eliminate books from my reading list, currently resting at 25,848 pages.  That's right, admit to myself that I have failed and will fail to read them, regardless of how awesome they might be, and give them to better homes.  This makes me sad, but I feel that healthiness is lurking behind the sadness.  My dilemma: which ones do I choose?

Here are my working theories:

  1. Get rid of anything that's been on the list since 2006 (probably 10-15%).
  2. Get rid of the unread Star Wars books (gasps for air...).  I'd finish up with the well-written series I'm in the middle of and pick up future books by authors I know write well, but anything else is not worth my time.
  3. Get rid of titles by going book by book and asking myself if I really intend to read it (not likely to work, as I'd just get pulled by in by the premise of the book).
  4. Get rid of titles by focusing on non-fiction, which not only slows down my reading but is often purchased impulsively due to my interest in, well, pretty much everything.
  5. Get rid of 80% of my unread books.  I find the Pareto Principle coming up in my life (and reading) more and more often.  This seems drastic, but let's face it, I'm losing in a big way right now and this would be a huge step forward.
Maybe I should do some combination of them all.  What do you think?  Does anyone else have this problem?  Any other ideas? 

21 September 2010

NY Times Gender Article

This is a fascinating article on female gender roles in Afghanistan.  I almost have to smile at the extreme creativity of this "solution"... almost.

What do you think?

Review of Assassin's Quest

Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy, #3)Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Assassin's Quest is a strong finish to Hobb's Farseer trilogy. As with the other two books, the best component of this one is the author's ability to let you see through FitzChivalry's eyes and mind.

This book is a bit different than the first two in that the main conflict (the Red Ships) takes a back seat to Fitz's personal journey, which made it slower to get into. There's much less of the unreliable narrator technique, as Fitz puts all the pieces together by the end. However, after a slightly slow start, I was quickly drawn back in to being Fitz. I just can't say enough about how this book made me feel what Fitz felt; when he was burnt out, I was exhausted; when he was betrayed, I felt betrayed. Hobb does a phenomenal job of conveying Fitz's inner nature.

Definitely worth reading for fans of Hobb and for those who enjoyed the earlier two books.

View all my reviews

20 September 2010

Fastest Birds: Peregrine Falcon & Gos Hawk

This was posted by two friends of mine (who don't know each other) on Facebook this morning.  Events like this have a way of teaching me two things: that subtle influences affect our lives significantly and that I like certain types of people... in this case, people who like peregrine falcons!  Maybe it's the aviation link.

I also woke up to a new email from FirstReads saying that I've won a new book!  It's supposed to be about artists who do something brilliant early in their career and then get panned for their later work.  Based on the reviews, I think the author focuses on musicians more than artists in general, so I'm sure I'll need to call my dad (a musician) to know who half these people are.  I'm hoping that I can generalize what this book says.  Breakthrough scientists often exhibit the same pattern of a brilliant early career, followed by a lot of work no one cares about.  I've wondered why all my life, so I'm hoping to find some answers.

19 September 2010

Book Review and a Two Week Break

This evening I reviewed a book I won through Goodreads' FirstReads program, Where Good Ideas Come From.  You can find the review here, where you'll discover that I enjoyed it immensely.

Today, by working through the whole weekend, I also finished my last assignment for my first class.  Yay!  I have a two week break until my next class starts.  I'm going to try to catch up on some sewing projects, so I'll probably be posting pictures of those next week.  Any suggestions on what to do with my time off?  Besides watch my Niners beat the Saints tomorrow, I mean.  ;-)

16 September 2010

First Post

Hello, everyone!

As this is my first post, I'll make it brief.  I decided to start blogging to keep in touch with friends and to put some of my thoughts out for other people to see.  I love a good dialogue!

I'm still learning the ins and outs of Blogger, so stay tuned for some updates to the page and a real post in the near future.  Thanks for stopping by!