Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stories: on paper or electronically?

I am drooling after a Kindle, a Nook, or whatever eReader. Me, of all people. I'm the person who absolutely loves books: the texture of the paper, the cover art, interesting binding. One reason I really like the Snicket series is that those books simply look amazing in hard cover. They even come with an Ex Libris.

When news of non-paper books first started to trickle in, I was alarmed. Would books go the way of newspapers? People don't subscribe to newspapers anymore like they used to, because you can get more up-to-date news online at your convenience. I'd hate it if books disappeared, as well.

This of course brings about the question: why do I hate that idea? Why is text in an electronic form somehow bad compared to being printed on a piece of paper? Books really should not be the thing itself; they are merely vessels for stories that people tell each other, whether fictional or nonfictional. The word is still in written form, even if it consists of bytes--it should not take away anyone's ability to read the story. It will not destroy literacy or make the next generation super dumb. The eInk used in these readers is amazing: it really looks like you are reading printed text. The experience is not at all like reading text from a computer screen.

From an environmental standpoint, wouldn't it be better not to print on paper? So far, there are not very many sustainable alternatives to paper pulp that is used for book pages: the unfortunate fact is that we destroy trees for reading purposes. Does not evoke quite as romantic an image as sitting down at the breakfast table with a glass of orange juice and the morning paper, now does it?

I'm also thinking of simpler benefits. I tend to read when I'm commuting, or traveling. I've even developed a system for selecting the Best Book to Take Aboard to optimize my traveling companion, which boils down to this: if it's a short book, the topic of it should make you think and pause so you'll spend more time with it, and thus you won't need to bring many books with you. If you opt for one big book, make sure it's not something that requires too much thinking, because the task of reading a huge book is anyway a bit daunting, and you don't want to be re-reading the first 30 pages over and over again, until you give up and just start watching the in-flight movie... (If you're going to say anything about me being a hypocrite for being concerned about trees and then flying... Yes, I'm aware of this.)

With an eReader, this whole dilemma of "I really want to bring LoTR with me but it won't fit in with my teaching material!" would be erased. I could have any damned book I wanted in there--multiple books, even! All in one, slim reader.

The authors would still get their money; so would the publishers, the editors and the designers. After all, they are producing a story and its accompanying art (typography included)--not the pulpy bits.

The downside to giving eReaders to all is that it would make libraries and bookstores obsolete. That would be a shame. Objectively I could say that bookstores are not any more needed than music stores when you can download music. But they are just such fun places to go to. I love browsing books. I've often bought a book that just somehow caught my eye on the shelf. Still, my selfishness should not be the reason to sustain bookstores.

I would regret the disappearance of libraries the most. I feel as if libraries are a true sign of democracy: anyone can go in there, get a library card, and borrow a book on any topic they are interested in. A poor person can learn mathematics on his or her own without needing to buy cable for Internet (or the computer, for that matter)--just go to the library. Heck, you don't even need a library card if you have the time to just go there, sit down, and read.

Libraries are also bastions of free speech: groups attempt to ban or sensor books that they think are inappropriate ("think of the children!" is the most common objection to, say, a children's book about two mommies), and libraries and their awesome librarians usually tell people to suck it. Even in Alaska.

I suppose if people preferred eReaders over books, library buildings would still exist: they would be the archive for a forgotten art form, printing. It would be fun to go in and touch books and leaf through pages. Also, I assume that they would still keep on hosting book club events, children's story times, and offering space for the community in the form of study areas and meeting rooms.

Maybe bookstores would transform the same way in a world without paper. They would be mostly used for the community to get together and read, or discuss reading. Maybe bookstores would work as hubs for downloading and buying your books onto your eReader. They would still host author events.

It's kind of sad that even such a simple thought as "I really want one of these eReaders!" makes me feel like a terrible human being. I suppose it's still good to think about these things. I pretty much have my mind set, though. I'll be getting an eReader at some point, but I doubt it will stop me from buying books also in printed form.

ETA: Forgot to mention one thing that is still making me a bit iffy about the eReaders: the biggest of them, and hence the ones with most flexibility in use and most titles, are created by gigantic booksellers. Kindle is Amazon's, and Nook is Barnes&Noble's. Which, as far as I know, means that when I buy books, I should be buying them from these places--I will not be able to support a local bookseller, and I would be at the whim of the pricing policies of these gigantic corporations. As soon as there is a good reader that can download library eBooks, and buy books from wherever the heck I want, I will definitely be on it. Right now, I'm being cautious about to whom I want to sell my book-loving soul.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A lot of text but not much of a plot.

Time to take a look at a couple of knitting books I've had sitting around. I obviously don't read them word-by-word (I'm not that into reading), but I always do read the author's lovingly written blurbs about the patterns. You only need to read a paragraph from a knitting book to know whether the pattern will be something you'll like: if you find the style of writing suitable for you, the pattern will most likely fit your style as well.

Japanese inspired knits by Marianne Isager

This book has amazing patterns that are simple, yet very elegant. You won't believe how many knitting books I have browsed and left in the library shelves with a frown of disgust on my face because the knitted shirts, shawls and mini-shorts (brrrr!) seem more like the classic joke about horrid things your Grandma gives you for present rather than being actually something you can wear.
With that said... the "Japanese inspired" part was rubbing me the wrong way. First of all, the author begins telling the reader that she spent time in Japan and was inspired by whatever she saw there and thus created these items. "Most of the year" is her vague description, and yet she tells us she hopes the book will give us a picture of "how the seasons move through the year on the other side of the world." Lady, you were not there to see all the seasons, but whatever. Gives her apparently the authority to say things like "In Japan, we celebrate..." (emphasis added).

The blurbs about the patterns create this air of a mystical Japan, where everyone is guru-like and traditions are revered like in no other culture. Basically, it's exoticizing Japan. The patterns are "Japanese" mostly because there is some kanji and pretty pictures of koi and cherry blossoms splattered (tastefully and minimalistically, of course) all over the book. The exoticism is also evident in the selection of the book's only model: instead of actually getting a Japanese (or heck, even just an Asian) woman to pose, the model is a white woman who has been made up to look like a Japanese person. Take a look at any other, non-Japanese-produced knitting pattern books and you won't see white women with that hairdo in them - unless they're goths in a version of Stitch n Bitch. It's like a wet dream for Japan-o-philes: now's your chance to look like you're Japanese! Who's wearing Scandinavian knits that are Japan-inspired because we say they are!

One customer at made me giggle with this apt comment: "I understand that with so many knitting books coming out, it's not a bad idea for an author to have some kind of a hook. But these patterns are "Japanese-inspired" the way Ashton Kutcher is a Kabbalist." (The same reviewer actually makes a point about the white-girl-with-black-cropped-hair! High five!)

The author was invited to do an exhibit in Tokyo, of which she says: The reaction from the organizers of the Japanese exhibit surprised me - they didn't recognize much Japanese influence in my knitting; instead they exclaimed, "How very Scandinavian."

To Isager's credit, she does say that the garments in the book are not Japanese, but Japanese-inspired. Still, the inspiration seems to stem from only the most stereotypical traditions and customs that come to everyone's mind when hearing the name "Japan". Here are the pattern names:
- Stone Garden Jacket
- Winter in Tokyo
- the Fan
- flower buds
- the Carp
- the Umbrella
- the Sun
- Summer in Tokyo
- Rice fields
- Indigo
- Maple Leaves
- Sake and Soba (I guess cabled knitting can be called noodles...)
It's like someone going to Finland for half a year, and coming back wearing shoes made out of birch bark and talking about how people are in touch with nature over there, while singing joik - totally ignoring anything outside of folklore.

Still, with all that harsh criticism, the patterns are absolutely beautiful. I just wish there would have been less of the exoticism. I might even consider buying this book, if each of the projects did not require hours of work and tons of money put into the yarn... I mean, look at this cardigan: it's so cute!

Picture Perfect Knits by Laura Birek

This book is all about intarsia. If you're unfamiliar with that name, it's basically what you do when you want to create a picture by knitting. If you see a Che Guevara face knitted on a pillow - yup, that's intarsia (and yes, as inappropriate as that is, it is not the most inappropriate intarsia pattern in the book. That would be the face of Lenin).

Those two patterns already should give you the idea of the targeted audience: it will be the hipster-y kind, who do not really see the irony in wearing merchandise with Che's face on it. Or maybe it's so ironic that we squares don't get it!

The instructions and pattern descriptions are short, to-the-point, cutesy and loaded with puns and alliteration. The word "vintage" will make an appearance. There is a pattern for how to knit a cupcake on a pillow. It's that kind of a book.

I actually tried out a couple of the patterns, including a weird, but cute animal (turned out really nice), a butterfly, and a pair of children's cat paw mittens (so cool!). The full-on patterns are in a minority in this book, though: most of it is dedicated to intarsia patterns for images (kind of like pixellated art), and you can use them as a template for any project you want. Just use a basic pattern from any source, and add an image of your choice into it. It's very handy. I think I will be getting this book.

Soft + Simple Knits for Little Ones by Heidi Boyd

Grabbed this because it had two really adorable tops that looked simple enough for me to try. I did begin one for a 4-year old, but it turned out that had I finished it, I would've made a tunic big enough for me. So I had to scrap it. I was kind of surprised that the size would vary that greatly, although my needles were only 0.5mm larger than the suggested ones. I thought I'd try out some shorter projects, but a lot of them used fuzzy and sparkly yarn. Not really my favorite thing to knit, and I can't imagine children actually liking the fuzzy material tickling them all the time.

Still, there are a couple of toys in there that I want to try. If I ever finish one and it's not gigantic, I'll post a pic here.

Wrapped in Comfort by Alison Jeppson Hyde

I've been wanting to learn how to knit a lace shawl. I've just had trouble finding a pattern that's simple, yet pretty. I know there are plenty of patterns online, but I figured that if something is already printed on paper, I might as well get that. It's not fun trying to read patterns from your laptop screen. Especially on a bus.

Each pattern is accompanied by a personal anecdote from the author. Usually, the anecdote is about a woman she bonded with over knitting or admiring at shawls. Also: includes an anecdote about 9-11. Some call this heart-warming, some might call it sappy. I have to admit to not being able to read all of the anecdotes, especially as they are nonfiction written as fiction by possibly someone who is not very familiar with writing fiction. Zinnia's story is about going to San Francisco, and the one-page story begins and ends with a quote (one direct, one indirect) from that song that everyone always mentions when going to San Francisco. Then the author remembers that she might want to have it somehow connected to the shawl in question, so she ends the story with If your hair's too busy, here's my knitted version to wear or wrap around someone you love. It's that kind of prose.

The patterns are all quite wonderful, and I began one of the shawls that looked manageable. I also managed to read the pattern wrong, and wondered why my stitch count is not matching the pattern no matter what I do. Only later, reading another knitting book, did I find out what one abbreviation really meant (I misunderstood it as it was described in this book).

Reading what I just wrote I feel a bit bad about being so snarky and critical. But then again, there have been a bunch of knitting and crocheting books that I really like, so I don't think I'm being unreasonable. Knitting books, although without any plot, can also be well-written, or written with sloppy fact-checks and bad prose. Most people just skip the stories and go directly to the patterns. Which, I suppose, are ultimately what make or break a knitting book - not the writing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

You need what for this recipe? Adventures in typos and people who instead of apologizing just make it worse

Usually writing about books is pretty tame: either the writing is reviews, or a news article on the content of the book in general. Or in the case of Sofi Oksanen, whether she's hot or not and how that sells/does not sell her books.

So you can imagine my delight this morning when I saw this bit of news: A Cook-Book Misprint Costs Australian Publishers Dear. The original linking text to it was something akin to "Cookbook turned into pulp because of a typing error", which caught my eye a wee bit more. Proofreaders and editors are important!

What I was not delighted with was the absolutely stupid comments by the head of publishing at Penguin Books, Bob Sessions.

"We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind, and why anyone would be offended, we don't know," says Bob. See, he has no clue why on Earth anyone would be taken aback when a simple tagliatelle recipe asks you to use ground black people. Newsflash to Bob: if someone is offended, then there probably was a reason for that person to be offended - it doesn't matter if you personally were not, because I assure you, we can find something that offends you but doesn't offend others. Let's not play that game. You, Bob, are not there to make a judgment about whether there was anything to be offended about. Just acknowledge the mishap, apologize for causing distress, and move on. Simple as that.

But as a professional linguist I take extra beef with his reasoning for why this misprint should have been forgiveable:

When it comes to the proof-reader, of course they should have picked it up, but proof-reading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

Excuse me? Proofreading a cookbook is extremely difficult? What kind of an effed up excuse is that? If proofreading a cookbook is extremely difficult, what then is proofreading a novel with an ample amount of metaphors and run-on sentences? Is that then extremely-extremely difficult? What is easy to proofread? I would have imagined that cookbooks are easy to proofread as the text usually follows a pattern: first the recipe, then the instructions. Instructions use certain type of grammar, and you can expect certain words to be repeated a lot (bake, whisk, whip, mix etc.).

What I think happened was this: the proofreader did a bad job. End of discussion. Unfortunately, this time the mistake the proofreader made was just a pretty bad one. The last three books I have read have all had some kind of typos in there. It's annoying, but those get away with it because spelling "deity" with "diety" isn't going to make anyone think of the KKK (Alan Moore - I'm looking at you. Get that "diety" of yours checked).

God. I'm so annoyed by that shitty excuse you can't even believe it. It's like saying "Oh, teaching kids how to read is extremely difficult, so I find it forgivable that little Johnny never learned to distinguish his Hs from his Ns." Unless you have hired a completely incompetent proofreader to do the job who just decided to be lazy and skim over the text, the point of the text being difficult should not be it. How can it be difficult not to realize that "ground people" doesn't really fit in the text? You only do this if you are really tired/distracted and you are not focusing on your proofreading work. It's not like "OMG this text is so difficult... how on Earth do I know whether the author really wants to use ground up people or pepper??"

Bob Sessions's entire retort reads like "screw you, cry-babies - I'm having a tantrum because I lost all this money", and I don't think that's a very good idea from a marketing stand point.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 10. No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Warning: I loved this book/the way ideas were presented in it, so this will mostly be overflowing praise. But not without criticism, I swear!

The About:

Beavan, a middle-class family man and an author who is vaguely discontent with his life decides to embark on an experiment, where he will consume as little new products in a year as possible, while also attempting to cut down the possible negative impact his life might have on our planet. This he decides to record in a blog and write into this book. He begins by baby steps: always selecting stairs instead of an elevator, and taking his own, reusable cup to a coffee shop. He struggles with the urge to consume with often hilarious results: when he decides to begin to take his own tote bags to the store, he gets obsessed about finding and buying a French fish net shopping bag, scavenging the entire New York in his attempt of finding one. Then he realizes that he has a house full of absolutely fine canvas bags to use as a tote - the idea of buying new stuff to accomplish something simple is just so ingrained in us that we can't even think about taking a walk without automatically thinking, 'Hey, I think I need new shoes that are specifically designed for walking!'.

This prompts him to question why we are so into Stuff, and how much happier we actually are with Stuff. According to surveys, Americans had less money and less Stuff in the 1950s than right now, but the rate of Happiness has not increased (see the book for more information on these "happiness rate" surveys). Basically, not only does he want to see whether a single person could (if enough single persons would join him) have a positive impact on the environment, he also wants to see whether learning not to get instant gratification from Things would make him happier.

Beavan begins the project by asking his family to not throw away any of their garbage, but instead collecting it in bags at home for a couple of weeks. This is just to get an idea of how much stuff they throw away. Besides the obvious food scraps and food wrapping, the shocker comes from items that are designed to be used for 5 seconds and then thrown away: paper napkins, paper towels, those little wooden sticks you stir your coffee with, plastic straws, plastic cups. It's easy not to pay attention to them because they are so small and so fleeting, but when you realize that you easily fill a garbage bag with them within a week, it makes you pause. An aside: this made me pay attention to such items that I used only today, and the tally so far is: 3 paper napkins along with food/drinks, paper napkins to blow my nose on. I was so horrified with this (and the idea that I waste at least that much probably every single day) that I refused to use a disposable, plastic spoon at a cafe to spoon up the milk froth from my cappuccino, and used a fork instead, probably puzzling the staff.

Before getting into the book, some reactions from other people:
Beavan's simple actions cause interesting reactions, and I'll get back to that in a second. This was evident in the documentary about the No Impact Man (which we watched yesterday - streaming on Netflix!) where the criticism went from "who is this bourgeoisie guy doing this only for a year - some do it all their lives! What a jerk" to "you can't call yourself a No Impact Man if your wife works for a company that promotes consumerism and trees are killed with every single magazine they print".

It's like a competition. Either you do it our way or you have failed. Either you do everything imaginable, or you are just a phony who nobody should listen to. And at the center of it all is Beavan, ready to admit that he is not perfect, and all he is promoting is to see how his family can reduce the garbage they create and hope that other people get inspired by it, too. He is not out to tell people who live miles away from the nearest grocery store to stop using their cars.

You may groan, but I'll say it nevertheless: he should be called a Huge impact man, because I can't look at plastic stuff the same way again, or the way I not only buy junk but use it.

This is, hands down, the best book I have read about the pros of environmentalism and what it actually means in a human being's everyday life. We all know what we should be doing, because we see those lists everywhere from Cosmo to CNN: change your light bulbs to be more energy efficient, drive less, eat locally produced foods - you know the drill. But people are kind of messed up: when others tell us what we should do, we usually find a ton of excuses not to do it or we get offended, because we feel that there is an underlying accusation there of "I am a better person for doing all these things, and you, let's face it, suck." So it's easier to find an excuse why not to use energy efficient light bulbs ("they give off an ugly light and don't go well with my decor!") rather than evaluate the information given objectively. Which, I know, is difficult, when there are also people who don't think we should be doing anything to improve our life on this planet, thinking that people are not to blame for disappearance of animal species, pollution, you name it.

But back to the book. What Beavan does is genius: he admits with a blush that he is one of those people who chastise Americans for driving too much while he himself drives to work/goes by subway. His experiment is for one full year to put his money where his mouth is. If he thinks that Americans should drive less, he should drive less. If he thinks that people use too much stuff made out of plastic he should stop buying stuff himself first and see, how easy it is to find alternative ways to create items that are sold in wrapping (soap, laundry detergent, washing liquids).

He is not doing this to prove himself as a better human being than the rest of us; he's doing it to see with how little he and his family can survive without endangering anyone's health or general well-being. He is willing to have it rough for a full year, and if something still feels rough after a year, they are willing to go back to their old ways. But not without trying.

My reading experience went from one extreme to another. It began with "awww, Americans are so endearing" when Beavan is marveling at how easy it is to bike to work and wondering why more people are not doing it, or coming to the miraculous conclusion that you can take your own bags to stores and fill one up instead of coming out of the store with 5 flimsy plastic bags that are barely reusable because they get holes punctured into them by a cucumber. It ended with "wow, are you serious???" when Beavan's family shuts off electricity at their Manhattan apartment, dreading the winter and long, dark days because the solar panel they have will not produce enough electricity to run his computer (for his work) and lights.

Of course, the premise is not without its problems: he is, after all, a fairly well-to-do person (with a wife who grew up in the world of yachts, country clubs and mink furs), so he can easily change some of his habits. It is no problem for him to start buying items that are only locally produced, or get his ingredients directly from the farmers - that's mainly a problem of directing your ample amount of cash somewhere else. He lives in the middle of Manhattan, which means that using anything else to get around is easier than using a car. 

With that said, this book is not about whether he is the perfect example for environmentalism, or whether he WINS by doing things THE HARDEST WAY. It's all about how a single person changes from what he is used to to what he really needs. He is preaching to people like himself, who are most likely the people who also consume the most and create the most trash - which then affects the lives of everyone, regardless of their income levels.

On his blog he behaves almost guru-like: when people ask him, "what should I do first, where to begin?" he replies with "What would you like to do first?" And when the person responds, "Well, I'd like to start biking to work" he asks, "What's stopping you from doing that?" He does not want to be some almighty adviser, because we all have to pick our battles. He doesn't know how much money I have, where I live or how physically fit I am - he has no authority to tell me that I need to live my life exactly like he does. And that's what he acknowledges, which makes this project so beautiful. It makes you think about whether you could replicate what he does and if not, what are you able to do?
Even if the change you make is to never pick up a plastic bag from a store again, it is still a change, even if it feels small. As a result, you are still consuming and wasting less than what you did before.

 11. Mariposa by Greg Bear

This is the latest installment from Greg Bear, the most charming and unintimidating sci-fi author of the Seattle area. I had the pleasure to hear him give a reading of his previous book, and I was delighted when the reading turned out to be more a lecture on why reading is important and how reading and stories affect our daily lives.

The Plot shortly before I start rambling about the reading experience
Something is horribly wrong with the future United States of America. The Vice President brutally murders his wife without apparently any remorse, and this scares the whole country poopless: were we about to have a homicidal psycho as president? How could this have happened? FBI agent Rebecca Rose is called in to investigate the connections of a CEO of a Talos corporation to a possible plot to bring down the government, only to find that the reality awaiting for them is more sinister than she has expected.

Then the rambles

Mariposa affected me with dread. I have to say that I have been reading this book on and off since late December, which is the result of owning a book and then pushing it further and further down the reading list because you still keep on getting library books, or borrowing books from friends... So Mariposa was definitely a victim of this, and I apologize, because it is a fine book. What mostly stayed with me after reading it was a feeling of dread. It's not a nice book. It's kind of like what might happen if the Baudelaire trio from Snicket books grew up to work in government jobs. Even a happily-ever-after ending would have a silent question at the end... "or did they?"

The book is a sequel to Quantico, which I have not read yet. I wonder if my understanding of Mariposa would have been easier if I had. With Mariposa, I had a terrible time with names: I simply could not remember which character was which, and I had to leaf back many a time to check who this person was now. There are two reasons for this: 1) me reading the book over a long period of time, and hence not really even remembering always what was happening, so I had to re-read bits anyway and b) because to me, the behavior of, say, Nathaniel, on the page did not seem all that different from the behavior of the Silent Man. They all kind of read like the same character to me after a certain point: determined and vaguely paranoid. Not only that, but there is not a single narrator: although Rebecca Rose is brought in as a prominent character, we have at least two others who speak with the authority of a person that the readers should be concerned about, and all of them are involved with the collapse of the United States in one way or another - and all in different operations, under cover or otherwise under the radar. Throw in a plot about imprisoning and giving a death sentence to a kid of an FBI operative to possibly tarnish the name of the institution, and there is a puzzler for ya!

I had a hard time following this book, so I might need to give it another go now that I know what's happening in it. I ended up reading the first 50 pages again because I had no clue of what was going on and who was doing what. Maybe my brain cells are dying from reading too much Cute Overload daily... Nah, Cute Overload, I still wuw ya! Still, this should not be held against Greg Bear, but rather my ability to read the book in my current state of mind. Will try it again!

12. The F-word by Jesse Sheidlower

As the name suggests to many people, this is about the word fuck. Yup, I just wrote it there. Does that mean I have to now put some kind of a disclaimer for my blog that this is not viewable for eyes under the age of 18?
Anyways! Or if you're me, you thought upon seeing the title "Oh, there's a second book out?"

Basically, The F-word is for you if you are interested in the etymology of the word fuck, but you don't have access to the OED. It lists the word as used in compound words, as a verb, adjective, adverb - you name it. Of course as with any slangy and/or expletive expressions, the usage changes quickly because people do get very inventive with language, and therefore this book probably needs an update every now and then. Sheidlower states, which phrases have been taken out because there has not been enough evidence for a wide-spread use, and which terms have included although they are still fairly new (guess whether MILF made it).

The preface to the book is interesting, as it tracks down the first instances of the word, the urban legends revolving around the word's origins, and then naturally, the legal cases that have involved the usage of the word in public places. Fuck is still a word that cannot be uttered in public radio, or basic cable - even if it's past kids' bed time.

I wish there would be an accompanying book that delves more into the arguments for and against letting "indecent" words to be published. The preface of the book already shows that both of the main arguments are wrong: "It's just a word - why are you so afraid of it?" and "It's indecent - we should never make our kids hear it!"

The first is of course absolutely stupid. If words were ever just words, I would not get into trouble if I told a friend that she has a big nose and she wears horrible clothes (and now I can imagine all of my friends going, "is she talking about me...?" NO! This is a fictional example, people). Words are never just words - they express our intent. And the intent of, say, the word fuck depends on the social context. If society at large has deemed that it is an improper word, I can shout the word till my head falls of and people will still think of me as an asshole - no matter how I say that it's "just a word".

The second argument is equally stupid. A word is indecent if we use it indecently or decide collectively that it is such. What is indecent depends on the cultural context, and apparently nowadays anything relating to sex is. Sure, it's right that nowadays the word fuck is censored, so in that sense the argument is right... But the whole "protect our children from seeing it in a dictionary" is quite stupid. First of all, most kids have heard it in one context or another, probably uttered by a family member of a younger age, by the time they turn 13. And the book gives a good argument for including the word in the dictionary: it is in wide usage, and nobody will ever accidentally find it - you have to know what you are looking for. Unless, of course, you are a freak who reads a dictionary like a novel, one entry at a time.

To me the most compelling reason to include the word fuck in dictionaries is that if we don't, later generations will not know how people actually spoke - whether we agree with their way of speaking or not. I find it sad that I might not ever find out how people really spoke in the Victorian era, because most of the curse words (and other, blood-pressure raising terminology) has been banned from written texts. That is, unless you were a clever chap and used puns or foreign languages to convey the meaning. I'm not saying that everyone should be saying the word fuck constantly, but as it is part of the nation's vocabulary, it should not be banned from institutions who keep track of our languages.

I'm not a frequent user of the word myself, which I find funny because I used to use similar curse words in Finnish quite a lot. In English, I hardly ever do. If I say fuck, I'm suddenly transported out of my body, and I see myself as an actor in an American sitcom, or in something like Beverly Hills 90210. I think this is because I personally relate the word to the language of youth, but I did not grow up using it although I knew of its existence - mainly through contacts to English-speaking cultures. If I say fuck or any variants thereof, I want to giggle because I feel like I'm acting American. Does this make any sense?

Next stop: a book about ESL speakers and how they use the dreaded F-word!
Thank you, Wasabi Prime, for the book! (And for the one below, too!)

13. F U Penguin by Matthew Gasteier

Appropriately, a second book whose idea revolves around the word fuck but who is unable to print it out full on the cover. Interesting!

This all started out as a web page called Fuck You Penguin, where this guy Matt insults cute animals who apparently act too pompous for their own good. Obviously, this is a reaction to Cute Overload, where pictures of cute animals are gushed over with cutesie-wutesie language.

Thing is... the website is pretty funny. Mostly because it gets updated often, and it doesn't matter if the insult of the day is just two words, because you probably have time to read only two words during your lunch break from work (because the rest of the time is spent on Facebook). If you don't find something terribly funny, you can always scroll to the next one.

As a book... it was funny, but a bit odd. There is one page that has a picture, and then the insult is either a caption to it or a paragraph on the next page. Then you are done with it and there will be no new picture or caption to replace it once you are done. So, the reading experience is not quite as pleasurable as on the web. Kind of like if The F-word was on the web - I wouldn't enjoy reading it from a glowing screen at all, but I like it as a book.

A good conversation starter for sure, though... That poor penguin! 

Oh no. Why do I always end up, unintentionally, reading things in themes! I have Wetlands waiting for me, courtesy of my friend Saara... I'll try to read it on the bus on my way to work today, and hope no one notices, hehe.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book side products

Revisiting the cook book.

I did end up trying out a couple of recipes from this book. Surprisingly, one of the items praised as easy and delicious turned out to be just that: the dish took me all of 10 minutes to prepare, and it was really yummy. I have to admit that I was a bit suspicious with Feta Pasta Casserole including items such as red bell pepper - this sounded so much like random Finnish "exotic" foods. Man, although I loved my uni's cafeteria food (it was awesome!), they did have some crazy crap there that they called something foreign to give excuses to their odd choices of mixing ingredients that just shouldn't go together. I will never forget the time they served "Chinese wok casserole", which was rice with feta cheese and olives. I have yet to encounter any style Chinese cooking, let alone Asian cooking in general, that would use feta and olives. I have no idea what was going on there. And of course, the whole term "wok" to describe any pre-cooked pieces of frozen veggies mixed with noodles is questionable, too (slices of carrot? Seriously?)

But I digress big time. The Feta Pasta was a massive success. Encouraged by this, I tried the Lemon Zest Pasta Sauce, just because I love all things lemon. Fun fact: when you mix lemon zest with lemon juice and add some cream/cream cheese, the lemon begins to taste like lemon grass. I thought I was going nuts, so I asked hubby K. to try it. His taste buds are on a totally different level from mine, but he confirmed - you've made this sauce with lemongrass. So, in the end, the pasta sauce really just reminded me of Thai food. Good tip for the future, I suppose!

So, I'm happy to announce that the book really delivered what it promised, at least so far: really easy but yummy foods. I'll be testing out some of the other recipes as well.

Revisiting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The movie for this novel finally came out in the US, with limited shows, and I was there the first evening in Seattle. With me were 3 others who had read the book, and two who had not. I was worried - what if the movie sucks? Then these people will never want to read the book, which is an awesome, awesome book. Like, actually awe-inspiring in the world of crime novels.

Apparently I fretted for nought: we all enjoyed the movie. Census was that it was nicely un-Hollywood, meaning that the characters looked like real people. Action was not explosions-and-blood-and-gore, but scarily realistic - which I think really drove the point home that this is not supposed to be a story that the viewer can distance him- or herself from. In my mind, it's a story of one or two of the Things Wrong with the World Today, and we should all learn from it. Interestingly enough, a lot of the reviews I saw for the movie said that the violence was too graphic and over the top, and that the viewers would be better off waiting for the American remake (which has already been assigned to a director, who, despite my pleas, will not be Quentin Tarantino - come on, man! He would totally get the whole vendetta-story!)

Things that we readers of the book did not like:
- Lisbeth Salander is less of an enigma in the movie. In the book, we don't even know what's going on in her head and whether she really is a mentally underdeveloped psycho of some kind until well into the story. I loved that about the book, because Larsson knew that had we learned Salander's personality from the get-go, we would condemn some of the people who viewed her strangely. But we are first shown how Salander seems through their eyes, so we get to understand both them and her. Genius.
- Mikael Blomqvist is so blah in the movie. Sure, he is pretty blah in the book, too, but he is damned smart. In the movie version, everything seems to just fall into his lap. He's supposed to be this wonderful, controversial and assertive investigative journalist, but we are not shown his investigative skills beyond him looking at some old pictures. It's Lisbeth who comes up with most of the answers, whereas in the book the pair works very equally.
- Some really important characters and storylines were completely left out or changed. I for one was surprised that the whole Wenneström deal made by Henrik Vanger was left out. If I had only seen the movie without reading the book, I'd wonder why on Earth would Mikael want to spend a year investigating something just because he "doesn't have anything better to do", as Henrik Vanger so says? I for one was fairly miffed at Erika, the head of the Millennium magazine, being written as a background character who barely has any spoken lines. Sure, if they had included her, they might have had to include the whole deal about open marriages, women in male-dominated work places etc, which just wouldn't have worked in the movie. In the book all of it is discussed really smartly, mostly because the characters involved are smart, but if the movie could have dedicated only 5 minutes to these issues it would have come out either as preachy or just too shallow a handling. Same with Dragan Armanski, the Croatia-hailing head of Milton Security, for whom Lisbeth works. Having read the books, though, these two characters must be included in the next movies. There just is no other option.

Although that is a lot of Not Likes, the movie still was very enjoyable. A movie can never be as good or better than the book, just because our imagination adds a lot to it. Although a picture is better than a 1,000 words, we do not view that picture the same way, or pick out the same things from it. The author has more of an influence that way. So, all in all, a very good movie, albeit the book's topic got a very soft treatment with the movie.

Now, back to reading.