Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Palimpsest, and Other Funny English Words

Happy Summer!

You know, besides that fact that it's 95 degrees outside and the power is currently out.

This summer has been more busy than relaxing, and while I'm happy about that, I'm also aching for a rest. Which just isn't coming. I don't mind being holed up in the cool basement, but my family hates it, so we go out a lot. But I keep an open mind, and it works out because last night we took a ride up in the canyons and it was raining. Raining! I was so happy I thought I was going to cry.


Have you ever heard the ridiculous word palimpsest? If you've studied English, perhaps, but it's weird. It sounds weird. It's not a word you'd insert into everyday conversation. But it's also a word that I love. If you look it up on Google, you'll get the following definition:

A manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

The analogy of this type of writing surfaced during feminist studies, which simply meant that women used their own analogies to describe their thoughts, emotions, and circumstances because during the nineteenth century they couldn't come out with a basic truth and have it be acknowledged. In other words, they wrote fluff while the men wrote academics.


While I don't necessarily want to focus on feminism today, I do want to talk about the idea that palimpsest exists in most fiction I've read. For example, I recently finished Rogue by Julie Kagawa, a YA book where a dragon can shift into human form and is on the run from two organizations that want her dead (this is the second book in the series). The battle between dragons and humans? Not new. It's an analogy for other wars. That between countries, between blacks and whites, between Natives and non-Natives. It doesn't take a genius to connect this fictional story to an obvious truth; the need for humans to get along with each other and try to see from another's perspective. Kagawa, one of my favorite authors, has always had a way of doing this in her books. There is a constant struggle between two "classes" of humans (Fey and human, vampire and human, or dragon and human), and it is the protagonist's job to bring some kind of peace and cooperation between the two. (You can read my review of Rogue here on Goodreads)

Another word that makes no sense (which also starts with a p, coincidence?) is pathos. I'd heard this word before, but only because my husband wrote it down above a sketch for a sculpture he wanted to do. "What is pathos?" I asked him.

"Pathos is pity," he said. "Or maybe empathy." He wasn't saying the definition had changed, just the way he was thinking about it. So I googled that too:

A quality that evokes pity or sadness.

Interestingly enough, pathos plays an important part in palimpsest. Emotion is key to all artwork. If a book doesn't reach out and grab your heart, it hasn't done its job. If a painting or sculpture doesn't relate to you, or if a piece of music doesn't make you tear up, then there is something missing in that piece for you. I'm not saying everyone should like the same music. But if a piece of work is created and it touches no one, then what is the meaning of its existence? Writers use pathos to bring us into the story.


For example, in Homebody by Orson Scott Card, the protagonist Don Lark has already suffered the loss of his baby daughter. How can you not feel for him? Even though he's not a real person, you know it's a real possibility for someone to be in his position. So you feel for him. Experience pathos. Without it, the story would have been boring and pointless. (You can read my review of Homebody here on Goodreads)

The other word you often see associated with pathos is ethos. Okay, I know I'm getting boring, but ethos is a great word that I think should be injected into our vocabulary. Don't you love google? They say ethos is:

The characteristic spirit of culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations. 

English students use this word a lot. They talk about the ethos of an essay or the ethos a piece of writing is trying to convey. Again, this is simply involving an emotion - or a spirit, to be more correct - into the writing that will make it interesting to readers, or to get them emotionally involved.

Den of Geek

Hmm...should we be done with trivial words for the day? Sounds good. What I wanted to do with these words is talk about the importance of putting real human feeling and emotion into writing. That can go for the movies and TV, for why your favorite TV show is your favorite TV show. I like to watch The Flash on the WB, and much of that has to do with how well they incorporated emotion into their first season. I know it's cheesy, but it holds my attention. I also went to see Spiderman: Homecoming last week, and was drawn in for the same reason. My new favorite Spiderman movie, and the reasons why are that the writing, the directing, and all the other work behind it weave together for an emotional ride that had me on the edge of my seat. I won't tell you where I almost cried, because that would be a spoiler, but trust me, it's good.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to be a better person, that makes me want to show my love for my husband and kids every day so they know I love them no matter what. Understanding others is how peace comes, how I can put away my anger about something I didn't understand before. Being observant, and bringing those experiences I see to light is what changes people. And, hopefully, that writing, that artwork, is motivation enough for us to become better people, and to change the world, one small act at a time.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Arguments For and Against Young Adult, and Why We Should Still Be Reading Kids Books

I love rain. Isn't it beautiful? It definitely cooled off the 90-something temps we had last week. It's probably not a good sign that I'm already hating hot weather. In early June. 

From Goodreads

But I do love summer. I love reading in the summer. Or listening to audio books. My latest completion is Talon by Julie Kagawa. As far as YA books go, she is one of my favorite authors. Her books have strong characters and feel true to life (you know, besides the girl being able to turn into a dragon). You can read my full review of Talon on Goodreads

A few months ago my class was assigned to read an article that blasted adults for reading YA. While reading it, I was all for everything Ruth Graham said, from calling Twilight trashy to encouraging adults to read grown-up books. After a rousing class discussion, however, I'm not entirely on board with her. 

From Goodreads

I don't think anyone should neatly tuck YA away in one category. Granted, after feeling like I did need to grow up a little in my reading, I don't necessarily want to put away childish books either. As Graham herself says, "It's just that today, I am a different reader" (1). Because I am a different reader today, going back and reading books like The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe and Wait 'Till Helen Comes are a completely different experience now than they were when I was a kid. Better. I love The Chronicles of Narnia more now than I did when I was a kid. I see my own life in those books, my own experiences come to life in the form of fantasy. As an adult, I've also picked up The Screwtape Letters, a deeply philosophical novel presenting a series of letters from Screwtape, a servant of the devil, to his apprentice, Wormwood. Having this book is an additional insight into C.S. Lewis' writing style as well as his reasoning. He also wrote a fantastic essay; "Learning in War-Time." 


That's not to say I don't allow myself some fun. I do! My guilty indulgences include Julie Kagawa, Kimberly Loth, and Kiersten White. But I also believe many of their books have value, that they have some kind of moral message behind them. If you're wondering - or even asking aloud - how I select books to read, it's simple. If I pick up a book, start reading it, and feel icky, I put it down. You get it, right? Have you ever started reading something and felt "icky" about it? Or have you read something that feels subliminally dark or erotic that goes too far? I've picked up several of those books. But I put them down. Think about it. You have a limited amount of time here on earth. If you love to read, what books are you going to spend your time reading? Because there are millions to choose from. 


I also try to broaden my horizons. Let me show you an example of my recent reading list: 
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Talon, by Julie Kagawa
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
God of the Sun, by Kimberly Loth
Earthbound, by Aprilynne Pike (just started this, so no judging if it turns out to be bad)
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg
Homebody, by Orson Scott Card

I feel that, for the past few months, this is a pretty well-rounded reading list. I understand that some people only like to read one or two genres. And you know what? That's okay. Do you love sci-fi? Go back and re-read Wrinkle in Time. There is some great stuff in there. Read it to your kids, if that makes you feel better. If you don't want to re-read it, you don't have to. In fact, there are very few books I actually do go back and re-read in life. What I'd like to do is make these two points: 

Pietro Magni's The Reading Girl

1. You can and should read to elevate yourself, to be more educated, and to push the limits of your thinking. 
2. You can and should read for fun, to escape a harsh reality, to unwittingly learn that truth is often more upfront in fiction than it is in real life. 

Until next time, Happy Reading! And enjoy! 

Works Cited
Graham, Ruth. "Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books." Slate Magazine. Washington Post Company's John Alderman, 05 June 2014. Web. 15 June 2017.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Feminist Reality - Taking Charge of Emotion, and Princess of Mars

Taxes, done. Exams, done. Car, registered. I'm going to sleep for three days.

Ah! If only that were possible. We all know it's not. Things happen, like birthday parties and art installations two hours away and family dinners and track practice. What happened to my week? Never-mind, I know what happened. I have a family.

Do you love the cover? Courtesy of Goodreads. 

My latest finished book would be A Princess of Mars by Edgar Burroughs. It was interesting to read for several reasons. One, it was probably the original sci-fi book of the century. Two, the book is well written and incredibly imaginative. Three, I could go over this with a fine-toothed feminist comb and make it look bad, but that's not my intent. We all know that things were different in 1912. Ready to change? Sure. But a strong patriarchal society prevailed. It's pretty obvious throughout the book. Especially when John Carter is constantly calling Dejah Thoris a "little woman," as well as building himself up as some kind of amazing god. There are good things too. You can read my complete (yet brief) review of the book on Goodreads.
Speaking of which, I recently had an epiphany while contemplating modern feminism. While I am a feminist, I'm not the ultra, wear-pants-everywhere, I-hate-guys kind of a feminist. In fact, I noticed that in the past I often contributed my overly emotional reactions to being a woman. Instead of having a rational conversation with someone, I allowed myself to cry uncontrollably and blame it on being a woman.

Wow. What the heck was I thinking?

The more I thought about this, the more I understood that both men and women use their gender to excuse behaviors that are less than savory. Son being a bully? It's just boys being boys. Woman screeching at her husband for not picking up milk from the store? She's just acting like a girl. Right?


Yes, the 21st century has been the most open century yet, allowing women many privileges we didn't have before. We've had the right to vote for almost a hundred years! We can get almost any job we want now and we can go to college. There are as many female news anchors as there are male. My problem lies with the backward thinking that still seems to rear its ugly head every once in a while that is centered on the English language and how it still leans heavily toward patriarchy. I'm not saying this is always bad; if I'm reading something from an earlier century and the word "men" is used to refer to all mankind, I don't get offended. Some people might, and that's okay too. I get it. I'm talking about language that creeps into television and movies, music, literature, and other pop culture. Sprint recently came under fire for portraying women as "shrill" or stupid, and when Lara Croft got a "reboot" in 2012 she donned a more realistic body but ended up crying a lot (Cracked). Huffington Post recently posted an article on the difference in clothing for girls and boys, where girls' clothes said things like "I Need a Hero" and the boys' clothes responded with "Hero in Training" (What You Wear). And this... horrifying. Funny, I guess. Some people see it that way. But this is still the way our society talks. If you're a girl and you're pretty, you don't have to be smart. This doesn't just do damage to girls:

Yes, males get it too. They need to be "tough guys," and it's okay if they are "little terrors," as long as they are boys and not girls. And...can you see those two in the middle?..."Smart like dad, pretty like mom." That troubles me. Deeply. (Thank you to Huffington!)

Anyway, I don't want to spend all day on this. Because I could. And that could get ugly and/or boring. But I want to make a point. Pay attention to the way you treat those around you. What goes through your head when you see a man crying or when you see a woman being tough? News flash: we are tough. As a mom, college student, and artist's side-kick, I am tough. I need to be tough. That doesn't mean I don't celebrate my femininity, because I do. I am a woman, who is different than a man. I believe that I'm beautiful, but...and this is's not because a T-shirt told me I was.

Something to chew on.

Works Cited: 

Samakow, Jessica. "You Are What You Wear
The Dangerous Lessons Kids Learn From Sexist T-Shirts." The Huffington Post., 03 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 May 2017.

Quercia, Jacopo Della, Evan V. Symon, K. Montagne, Dagmar Baer, David Wong, Josh Daws, Federico Cruz, and Miles Bacchus. "19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture." Cracked, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 May 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Marxism and (Kids) Movies

And no, I'm not a communist.

So...turns out you can't be an English major and not have movies ruined for you in some way. Seriously. Ask any of us. Especially at the point in time when we're studying Marxist criticism. What we do is study the way text and language is affected by Marxist theology (along with a hundred other criticisms, like psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and feminism). Language is everywhere, even in the movies.

Which means that while watching Ice Age over the beautiful sunny weekend, a light bulb clicked on while I watched the saber-toothed squirrel Scrat try to get that acorn. The acorn might represent the American Dream and the squirrel could represent any person (or thing) under the upper class (the one percent). Do you see where I'm going with this? What used to be just a hilarious movie is now a platform for Marxist criticism.


One of my favorite movies, Anastasia, is riddled with this kind of stuff. The setting does start out in Red Russia, after all. You have Anastasia, who is unsatisfied with being a poor orphan and wants to find out if she can have a better life (beautiful girl means happily ever after). Demetri, who grew up a servant in the castle and has always been poor, sees his con of training girls to look and act like princesses an opportunity to get out of the lower class and "be happy." You see where I'm going with this. Things I like about this movie? One, Anastasia does not need to be saved by Demetri; they work together and it is Anastasia who ultimately defeats Rasputin. Two, that Demetri realizes that he doesn't need the money to be happy, but that it's Anastasia that he loves. Some might argue that he only wants Anastasia because of the status she holds, but 1) he starts to fall in in love with her before he realizes who she really is, and 2) he takes off with her, even though she decides not to stay with all the money either.

Wow. That was tiring.

Okay, so I did promise some book reviews. The latest book I read was Blackmoore, which also offers a good Marxist or feminist reading. This book is an entertaining visit to the past with a Jane Austen romantic feel. I gave it three stars (this isn't a bad review - I do recommend it, especially if you like romantic escapes). One reason I like it is because it shows how "imprisoned" females were in that era, and she is ready to break rules (like go to India with her aunt - no place for a lady) because of it.

Hope you enjoyed these short, sporadic thoughts for today.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 27, 2017

If Anyone Says "Derrida" One More Time...

It's not that Jacques Derrida isn't a brilliant man. I think he was too brilliant for his own good. After an entire page of "Structure, Sign, and Play..." I was about ready to drill a figurative hole in my head. I do, however, find the idea of deconstruction fascinating. I knew there was a reason I didn't like Gatsby! That guy's a fraud.

AKA: the critical theorist with the good hair.
On the subject of the deconstruction, I do believe there is truth in the fact that literature contradicts itself, and that the "center is not the center" (Derrida, 1). Take Gatsby for example. He's supposed to be the hero, and the book touts him as the hero, but he made his living bootlegging and scamming people. This does sound like another favorite hero of ours, though...
Captain Jack Sparrow
The world loves conflict. We love complicated characters like Jack Sparrow, who, aside from being a conniving and plundering pirate, is a "good man." He's complicated, and he likes to complicate things. All for the Black Pearl. A boat. And here's where it gets tricky. What is the boat, really? He says it..."freedom." Probably more than that too, but I'm not going to deconstruct pirates. That would get so annoying. 

Instead, I will share some of my favorite complex characters in a list. Because I like lists. 

1. Jean Valjean.

At the beginning of Les Miserables, you don't think much of him. Especially when the priest is so nice to him and he ends up steeling from him. The reaction from the priest is admirable, and thank heavens for it. Then you can't help liking Jean Valjean.

2. Zuko. 

One of my favorite characters ever! He is almost ready to help the Avatar, and then BAM! Turns on his own uncle and betrays everybody. After that he realizes he's not happy. He ultimately confronts his own father and leaves to help train Aang as a firebender.

3. Max.

Max, the star of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, is a great example of one of the most basic complex characters we love. As children we can recognize the struggle within, the frustrations he deals with. Our only hope is that, like Max, we have a hot bowl of soup to come home to because despite our faults, our mothers (or another person we need) still love us.

4. Jesse Stone
Bleeding Cool

I don't know how a person can't like this guy. Fired for being drunk on the job, the police officer takes a position as chief in a tiny town called Paradise. He still drinks (he has a limit for the amount he can drink in a day), can't get over his ex-wife (still calls her quite frequently), and blatantly disregards rules he doesn't like. But he catches the bad guys, get the girls, and makes friends. Fear of intimacy? Yep. But he's a good guy.

5. Macbeth

Macbeth is driven to a state of insanity by three witches who prophecy his fate. In the beginning, his life seems fine. His wife trusts and loves him, he has a kingdom, etc. But when he learns of a man who is going to kill him, he falls apart at the seems. It's not that we all love Macbeth, but you have to pity him. If it weren't for the prophecy, he might have spared his own life.

Stepping aside from Derrida for a moment, what about Freud? A little (or a lot) of psychoanalysis would peel the layers away from these characters. Jesse Stone deals with a fear of intimacy, Zuko has family issues and a form of an Oedipus complex, and Jean Valjean is dealing with repression and regression so deep that he projects his fear onto the one man that makes sense; Javert.

Arguably, it is not analysis itself that makes a piece of literature (or a movie) good. But the best artistic pieces are riddled with complexities that are not just superficial. Good writing goes deep; the heart of the work is the center (and also not the center, according to Derrida), and all characters, settings, plots and subplots, and actions stem from it.

Oh yes. Books and movies are forever ruined for me. But in a good way.