Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Incomplete History

Here is my U.S. History textbook from the years 1490 to 1920 in a nutshell: 

1. White Christian male works hard. 
2. White Christian male assumes leadership position. 
3. White Christian male makes world-changing discovery. 
4. White Christian male writes classic piece of literature. 
5. White Christian male makes a decision. 
6. White Christian male fights for his country.


Now, look. I know what you're thinking. Of course that's the situation, and especially from 1490 to 1920. Women couldn't even vote within that time period. I know that. I know it was difficult to impossible for women to make their voices heard. But a complete absence? I don't buy it. I don't believe that men were the only ones taking action. I don't believe that women didn't participate in the world at all for 500 years, as my history textbook suggests. Instead, I think women did contribute in countless profound ways. They must have produced world-altering inventions and made incredible discoveries. But men probably didn't document these moments -- or gave credit to another man. 

But though I care very much about this issue, that's not really my point. My point is that the few women who are mentioned in our textbooks are so...female.

Take Cleopatra (I know I started out with U.S. History in the past four hundred years, but she works as a historical female figure, so bear with me). Contrary to what many believe, she was not the first Queen of Egypt (Hatshepsut held that title). Why is she such a well-known figure, then? Not because of her power or strength or her progressiveness, or because she was famously cruel to her servants; instead, her fame comes from an affair with a powerful man: the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. 

Or take Susan B. Anthony. The suffragette section in my textbook makes me especially frustrated (note: my frustration is not with the suffragette cause, but the category).  Why? Because of the way it's introduced, as if women had been asleep for the past couple hundred years of civilization and then immediately woke up at the sound of their names, annoys me. It's as if women hadn't contributed to any cause but their own. It's as if Susan B. Anthony was the first woman in American History.

Or Elizabeth Blackwell. Incredibly impressive. First woman to graduate from medical school. Admitted into the Medical Register of the United Kingdom. Opened dozens of facilities for women's medical education in the United States, as well as clinics for her own patients (she specialized in gynecology...most of her patients were women and girls). Amazing, right? She isn't in my history textbook. 

Which is especially interesting considering Carrie Nation, the nun who lead the temperance movement (anti-alcohol) in the 1920s, a cause that led to a Constitutional amendment that was later cancelled, got a full two paragraphs. Not that I have anything against Carrie Nation, but I find it a little strange that a woman who devoted her life to the 'evils' of alcohol got more acknowledgement than Myra Bradwell, the first female lawyer who worked her way up to some Supreme Court Cases -- and who received a total of four short sentences as a biography. 

If you're not "The First to" do something or a suffragette and you're in my text book, you're helping the men's cause by doing things like sewing socks and sending care packages. It's like women didn't exist at all until they were legally given their voting rights in 1920.

This is not right.

In an attempt to balance things, I'm listing a few feminist novels, lectures, and biographies. I really encourage you to comment on your favorites from your own repertoire. Or even better, to offer your history teacher some supplements. 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pretty modern, but still a perfect intro to feminism)

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (Step Aside Pops is awesome too)

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Catherine Called Birdy (this one's primarily for younger readers, but it's a great starter)

Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

The Essential Feminist Reader by Estelle Freedman

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Birthday Books

I turned 14 over February break, and as a reward for being alive for that long, I received, amongst other gifts, four well-chosen books from my parents. Here are my reactions:

**Also! I now have a Nerd Alert Instagram account (@nerdalert_readfeed). I'll be posting a picture and a quote immediately after I finish a book. Or listen to a new favorite song. Or attend a cool event. Follow if you're interested!

Image result for aphorisms kafka cover

Aphorisms by Franz Kafka

Why I'd want this book: Two reasons: Kafka and aphorisms. I've read The Metamorphosis and The Trial. I really enjoy his surreal/kafkaesque (ha) writing style and storylines. Aphorisms, for those of you who don't know, are small, concise, often one or two sentence statements that are ridiculously confusing unless you read them very slowly. It's kind of like taking a literature shot (Sorry, weird comparison). I first encountered them at this camp I go called Great Books  (I've attached a link if you want to check it out) during a philosophy elective when we were studying Friedrich Nietzsche's The Gay Science. We had a lot of fun trying to decipher the meanings behind the aphorisms (Yes, actually, I do realize how nerdy I sound).
You'll like this if you like: The Essential Marcus Aurelius, anything by Friedrich Nietzsche, The Metamorphosis,  and The Trial
Ages: Depends on your taste. I suggest 13+, but I'd start with some sort of introduction to philosophy. My first real 'philosophical' book was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Why I'd want this book: Two weirdos, one kind of chubby and red-haired and another Korean and withdrawn are drawn together by fate and end up falling in love (obviously, it's way more complicated than that, but if I had to give you a little summary, which I do, that's what I'd say). Wow, this book is addictive. TFIOS level. I loved it. I identified with the characters, I awwwed/laughed out loud, and I felt like stomping the book into the ground and crying once I finished it. It's light, but it's also so well written. I felt like I was the one falling in love.
You'd like this if you like: The Fault in Our Stars, Bruiser,  and Fangirl (which I haven't read, but it's by the same author)
Ages: 13+

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Why I'd want this book: Kate Beaton is a history-directed Roz Chast (my all-time hero...see Theories of Everything and Oops, has it actually been this long since my last post?). If you'd read her blog, you'd know that she makes parodies of historical events and Victorian novels. Her comics are sophisticated, but, if you get her reference, laugh-out-loud funny. I've actually used one of her comics for a post (see Zeus is a Jerk and Other Observations...this has to be the most links I've ever included in a post). I've used her comics in school projects too. I'd recommend this for history/classic, generally Victorian or Shakespearean novel nerds.
You'd like this if you like: Roz Chast and/or Hyperbole and a Half (the word 'hyperbole' links to her blog and 'half' links to her book)

The Golden Compass (graphic novel) by Philip Pullman

Why I'd want this book: Well, let's see. All-time favorite fantasy series (aside from Lord of the Rings)? Check. Philip Pullman involvement? Check. Graphic novel? Check. I went into this book unimaginably excited. But to my crushing disappointment, it was less than perfect. First of all, the art wasn't particularly beautiful or interesting. It had this scratchy, pencily look to it that didn't really work with the story. Second of all, if I hadn't read The Golden Compass series fifteen times, I would have absolutely no idea what was going on. The guiding voices of the characters were lost. And finally, the whole idea that Lyra's adventure was happening in an alternate universe was not at all apparent. But though I didn't love it, I'm glad I read it. Hardcore fans of this series should definitely read this. It's kind of like going on Google images and looking up your favorite characters after you finish a book. You're not necessarily looking for anything new, but you're comparing perceptions. This was one perception.
You'd like this if you like: The Golden Compass series (His Dark Materials), Percy Jackson and the Olympians graphic novel series and The Hobbit graphic novel (strongly recommend this one)
Ages: 11+ (Last warning: be sure that you've read the series before you buy this graphic novel)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

10 Books That Should Be But Aren't Required Reading in School


Between the World and Me  by Ta-Neishi Coates
Perspective: It's written by an African American as a letter to his son as he describes the racial situation of the present. It's not exactly angry, but there's so much quiet sadness in the events he recounts. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Racial prejudice is still very much a reality today; there is just so much more to be done. But his faith in humankind in reassuring.
Why it's also a good read: He's an incredible writer. You feel such a strong sense of empathy and a desire to take action once you put it down, it's overwhelming. 


Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Perspective: Boxers depicts the Boxer rebellion against the Christians from a Boxer's point of view, and Saints vice versa. 
Impact/What it made me realize: In history, there are no 'bad guys' or 'good guys'. Both sides are equally cruel and equally compassionate. 
Why it's also a good read: How many times have I mentioned this series on this blog? Three times now? Do I need to explain why it's a good book?

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Perspective:  This book is told by a schizophrenic teenager who was institutionalized. His character is based off of the author's son. And when I say written from his perspective, I mean his literal mind. As if you wrote down every thought that passed through your head. I've never read a book narrated this way (aside from The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time...scroll down), nor did I really expect anyone to be able to pull it off (I was wrong).
Impact/What it made me realize: Everyone views the world in an entirely unique way. Some angles, however, are especially interesting.
Why it's also a good read: It's beautiful, soul-crushingly good. The setting alternates between what we call reality and a ship where the narrator is torn between mutiny and his loyalty to the captain (no shortage of symbolism, that's for sure). 


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Perspective: A Bengali boy called Gogol by his family faces the true meaning of his name and his culture.
Impact/What it made me realize: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Tolstoy
Why it's also a good read: Jhumpa Lahiri has this way of writing that leads you in slowly and carefully, and when you turn around and look back, you realize just how far you've come. It's also so sad but you're not sure why. 


Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Perspective: David Sedaris, a gay, Greek-American, obsessive-compulsive, and ex-drug addict writes essays about his life experiences.
Impact/What it made me realize: Not fitting into society is in no way a bad thing. 
Why it's also a good read: He is hilarious. Absolutely side-splitting. I brought this book to camp with me and kept waking up my fellow cabin mates with my giggling. If you like this, I highly recommend reading his other books (my favorites were Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Holidays on Ice). 


Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Perspective: The narration alternates between Confederate and Union military officials in the Civil War. 
Impact/What it made me realize: 'Loyalty' is a broad concept.
Why it's also a good read: It's suspenseful, gory, powerful. As if you took a magnifying glass and aimed it at your history textbook's description. Fantastic. 


Maus (link to books 1 and 2) by Art Spiegelman
Perspective: Art Spiegelman's father tells the story of his experience as a German Jew before, during and after the prison camps in the form of a graphic memoir. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Humans are capable of doing unspeakably horrible things to one another. 
Why it's also a good read: The art is perfect for the storyline, with its black and white shading and detailed facial expressions. Definitely not a light book, though. 


Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Perspective: Edith Hamilton, the most renowned classics authority possibly ever, documents almost every Greek myth (with an introduction to Norse mythology as her closing chapter) EVER. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Humankind needs stories to sustain themselves. 
Why it's also a good read: This is my comfort book. I actually keep a copy in my locker in school in case of emergency. It's perfect for mythology lovers or a mythology introduction. 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Perspective: Christopher,a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome, can perform the most complex mathematical problems in his head, defeat any video game in ten seconds, hates to be touched, and won't go anything near the color yellow (or brown). But when he finds a dead dog in his neighbor's yard and decides to hunt down the killer, everything, from the truth about his mother to his father's confidence in him is revealed. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Similar to Challenger Deep, we all have our own versions of reality. It seems that he observes more than most people, but can't quite comprehend his observations. 
Why it's also a good read: How it's possible to write in this way is beyond me. When you put it down, it's shocking when you realize you're actually not Christopher, and you have to adjust to your own reality again. 

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Perspective: This classic piece of science fiction is narrated by Ender, the youngest of three living a couple hundred years ahead of us in which the world is at war with an alien force called the Buggers and brilliant children suspected of having militaristic minds are sent to a battle school in space. 
Impact/What it made me realize: War is 90% psychological. 
Why it's also a good read: It's part of a series that's part of a bigger series that stems off into a smaller series that leads to another series. If you plan on reading more after finishing Ender's Game, I'd focus on the Ender's Shadow series. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oops, has it actually been this long since my last post?

Yes, I'm alive, and because I didn't post for a year and because I don't feel like making up for that time, I've decided to list a few of my favorite graphic novels I haven't already mentioned. Just a heads up: my selection process was completely random. None of these really have anything in common, except for the fact that they're all graphic novels (They'd also make great gifts, hint hint!).

A Cartoon History of the Universe (all volumes) by Larry Gonick
Who would love it: History buffs and history novices alike will love this series. The writing is the perfect mixture of punny and sophisticated, the illustrations silly while clever as they recount the history of the world from the time of the dinosaurs to ancient civilizations. I've read each of these volumes too many times to count on two hands.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Smart as well as hilarious, this will obviously become a graphic classic."
Ages: 13+

The Giant Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins
Who would love it: Anyone with a heart, really. It takes place in a futuristic society known as 'Here', where everyone looks exactly the same, walks the same route to work, has the same routine after coming home, and, above all, has a secret fear of 'There', an island across the sea, a place that requires journey no one has come back from and those who attempt or confess a desire to take on this quest are scorned from 'Here' forever.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "A story told tentatively with an overwhelmingly powerful meaning."
Ages: I don't really have a recommended age for this book. However, your age will probably determine the depth of your understanding of the events taking place.

The Sandman (link to volume 1) by Neil Gaiman
Who would love it: Fans of stories like Coraline or The Walking Dead (AKA any shows you can't watch alone with the lights off) could get really into this series. A warning though, NOT for the squeamish or the easily disturbed.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Eerie...brings forth ugly questions about the human mind."
Ages: 12+

Apollo (volume 7 in The Olympians series)
Who would love it: Mythology nerds, Marvel/DC nerds, and general comic book nerds will absolutely love this series (if they don't already know about it!). Yes, I am, in fact, aware of the number of times I've reviewed George O'Connor's books on this blog. But you have to understand that he is a capital G Genius in the comic book/mythology field. Kind of like a modern Edith Hamilton. If you want to get someone hooked on reading or convince them of the power of the graphic novel, I strongly recommend this series.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Holy smokes, he did it again."
Ages: 9+

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Who would love it: You get the sense you're watching a movie as you read this book. It's the story of a struggling artist who is given the choice to either live a normal life and abandon his craft or receive a strange power that allows him to mold stone with his bare hands, but live within numbered days. It's both realistic and imaginative.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Somehow entirely different from any other graphic novel I've read."
Ages: 13+ (some mature scenes)

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Who would love it: It's sort of a mixture of Adam Gidwitz's Grimm series and Adventure Time by Liz Prince, with that kind of ironic, unique humor delivered by 3D looking characters with either completely rounded or pointed edges. Definitely worthy of its National Book Award Finalist medal.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "There's this hidden darkness that dawns on you the last couple pages. It's excellent, as well as strange."
Ages: 9+

Flight (link to 7 volumes...the 8th isn't included in the set for some reason) edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Who would love it: Though I think that anyone who is currently alive should read this book, I have to say that you might appreciate it more if you were a slightly avid graphic novel reader. Not that you won't like it, but you won't be quite as psyched about it as someone who is. It's basically a collection of graphic short stories written by a few well-known graphic novel authors (including Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Vera Brosgol, Kazu Kibuishi and others). The quality of the actual book should be enough to get you hooked. I mean, seriously. Look at that cover. But the best aspect of this series is the fact that not only are they beautifully illustrated, but they're powerfully thematic. There's a much deeper side to every one of these stories that will keep you thinking for a while.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "This series should be worshipped as the Holy Grail of Graphic Novels. A masterpiece."
Ages: 11+

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff
Who would love it: Fans of Blankets and This One Summer will love this book. Though the storyline is certainly uncommon and interesting, the element that really sets this book apart are its illustrations. The watercolor adds this dreamy, poetic feel, and the characters become as ghostly and mysterious as their surroundings.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "A fascinating story that will captivate its readers."
Ages: 12ish/13+

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Who would love it: Roz Chast, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is my hero. Maybe you remember my post on her previous book (Theories of Everything), but I would be perfectly happy with becoming her disciple for the rest of my life. Her sense of humor is completely individual. She sees the world an entirely different way from the rest of us, transforming what you never thought was funny, like a hot dog stand, and somehow, with her drawing style and emphasis with capitals letters and multiple underlines, makes it sophisticatedly funny. Though this book take a more serious tone, it remains truthful to her creativity and wit.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Entirely unique while personal, Roz Chast continues to represent the world in ways no one must have ever considered."
Ages: 13+

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (recognize this name? See my previous post: American Born Chinese)
Who would love it: I feel a little silly doing this series now, considering how much I loved it and how much it's grown in popularity since its publication, but I feel that it's my obligation as one who gives book recommendations to review this duology. This series gives a history of the Boxer Rebellion in China from the side of a Boxer and a Chinese Christian. It's a powerful reminder that war is never one-sided, that there are no 'good guys' or 'bad guys' in life or in any story, really.
Blurb I'd put on the back of the book: "Yang has a special ability to teach without giving the impression that he's teaching. An excellent portrayal of this historical event."
Ages: 11+

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Hot Zone

When I first heard of Ebola, my reaction wasn't terror, it was something like, "oh, that's the foreign version of the flu. It'll pass." The older I got, the more I started to realize, "Wait, this is actually a pretty big deal. Whoa, whoa, whoa, there's a fifty to ninety percent fatality rate?" But still, I remained calm. Africa was far away. There were four known cases in the United States. Then (two days ago), I was given The Hot Zone, a book about the emerging of one of the worst "predators" known to humankind. It described the three types of Ebola and its sister, Marburg, and then tells the story of a monkey testing facility that became "hot" (active) with "agent" (the word for a extraordinarily dangerous virus.) Holy smokes, that was the most terrifying thing I ever read. I'm dead serious (no pun intended). What the virus does to you...I can't even find the words. It basically turns your insides to liquid. It replicates until you have become a "walking biohazard", says Richard Preston, the author. I read that book in bed. I couldn't fall asleep. I didn't want to turn off the light. But the thing is, you don't really know what you're scared of. There's no ghost, no monster, nothing that could sneak up on you. But I still jumped at every noise, listened to make sure I could hear human voices, and that that persistent whistling noise was just my heater. I don't know why, but reading about that virus had the same effect on me as that scene in Jurassic Park where the bad guy is making a run for it, and then gets eaten by that Dilophosaurus. Read at your own risk!

Ages: 21+...JUST KIDDING! 13+
Awards: Overseas's Press Club of America's Whitman Basso Award and the McDermott Award. The author himself acquired so many awards, I couldn't possibly pronounce or type them all in a day.
You'd like this if you like: Fever 1793 (don't read The Hot Zone if you are expecting it to be the level of intensity this book is at. It's ten times more scary.)

                                    Interested in this book? Click the link below:
                                                  The Hot Zone

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ender's Game


You guys remember that babysitter I wrote about? The babysitter that gave me Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, and Frankenstein all of which I was suspicious of being deathly boring, and all of which turned out to be on my top ten book list? This same babysitter gave me Ender's Game, and I had the same reaction. Great, another classic with a boring cover that I have to pretend to be excited about (I hadn't read either Jane Eyre or Madame Bovary yet). Similar to the coming Jane Eyre situation, I stalled. I ignored it, staring into my back every time I entered the living room. I'm waiting, Phoebe. Eventually, I couldn't stand it. I got home from school and I picked it up. My parents didn't see my for the rest of the day. Ask me a question, you'd get a grunt or an 'mmmf'. This book was my gateway to Science Fiction, as well as psychology. Psychology and Science Fiction? What the heck am I talking about? Well, the book isn't just 'kill the aliens' which is what most people think of when they hear the words 'science fiction'. It's about war strategies, allies, brothers, enemies, and human instinct. And the characters stay with you. I've even started comparing friends to Ender's Game characters. No, I'm not Ender. I'm not sure who's Ender. I've started thinking of Ender as God in both the book and life. I must sound like I'm getting way too into this book. You're probably right. But pick up this book and maybe you'll change your mind.

Ages: 12+
Awards: Hugo Winner and Nebula Winner
You'd like this if you like: Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Giant, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Hegemon. Ender's Shadow is my favorite. You can read that before you read Ender's's the prelude. I should warn you though, look up the chronological order of the series. It's impossible to understand a single sentence if you read them in the order they were written.                       

                             Interested in this book? Click the link below:
                                                       Ender's Game

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Zeus is a Jerk (and other observations)

Before you say anything, no, this is not a book I'm writing about. However, I need to get a few things off my chest. Allow me to explain.

When I was younger, I loved the Greek gods. They were like superheroes. Role models. They were both the most beautiful beings known to man AND were incredibly smart. Their stories were fascinating and numerous, too. I had read the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, the Percy Jackson series, and George O'Connor's books (which I have written about here), Edith Hamilton Mythology, you name it. Then, as I aged (when I say 'aged' I mean over the course of three years), my perspective on the Greek gods changed. 

I started questioning the motives of the gods. Was it really the right thing to torture someone by having them roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll all the way back down again just for tattling on you (Sisyphus)? Or have your liver eaten by vultures only to grow a new fresh one every day because you did something kind (gave fire to the mortals) even though he didn't consult you first (Prometheus)? Or torturing the son of your husband (even though it wasn't your son with your husband)? Was it the son's fault he was born (Hercules and Hera)? I could go on forever. And the more I thought about this, the more enraged I got. But for each story I thought about, I reached a similar conclusion for almost every single one: The gods are too proud to admit they were wrong. Or settle down for three seconds so they could hear the other person's side. I also discovered that more than three quarters of the time, my rage was aimed at Zeus. 

Let's talk about Zeus for a minute.

1) After he beat his dad and company and claimed he birthright (lightning bolts) and saved the world and all that, he decided that himself, Hades (had a helmet of invisibility), and Poseidon (dude with a trident) should be the three "main gods": the sky, the sea, and the Underworld. But instead of sitting down and weighing each others' weaknesses and strengths, he decides to DRAW LOTS. Excuse me? This isn't that kind of decision. The three main lords of the universe decided by three pieces of paper with the words sky, sea and Underworld picked out of a hat. Smart move there, Zeus.

2) Married Metis, goddess of counsel and advice. Then, he had a crush on Hera, and SWALLOWED Metis when he tricked her into turning into a fly so he could marry Hera, the goddess of marriage ironically enough, instead. Then, after then wedding, cheated on her with women including Io, who he turned into a cow when he heard his wife coming, Alcmene whose son, who she had with Zeus, turned out to be one of the greatest heroes of all time (Hercules). Poor, humiliated, Hera. AND had a baby with the god Demeter named Persephone and helped Hades kidnap her. Not to mention Leto, Europa, Callisto, and Dianae, to name a few. Does he understand the definition of marriage? I'm not exactly sure.

3) Damned Prometheus to a horrible torture for helping the mortals, who he hated for some reason at the time (see second paragraph). Then later, he "warmed up" to the mortals (it is not stated why or when he decided this) but STILL DIDN'T LET PROMETHEUS GO. Once again, too proud to admit that he was wrong, just like with Sisyphus who told on Zeus for cheating on his wife. 

I could probably go up to 10. For each god. But I won't, don't worry. I think you get the idea.

When reading this, you probably think I believe in the Greek gods. No, I don't. I guess I just wish they were written a little better. When I picture divinities, I don't picture people like Zeus. 

"First Date" comic courtesy of Hark! A Vagrant (super cool blog.) I thought this strip summed up my thoughts on Zeus pretty well.