Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau

Initially I wrote this review for Bookmans.com in the summer of 2012 after reading The Island of Doctor Moreau aloud with my then 12-year-old son. When Bookmans did a website redesign earlier this year and migrated their website database, we unpublished all but 30 posts. I tweaked this post to park it here for now.


According to The Literature Network, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) by H.G. Wells, deals with themes of eugenics, the ethics of scientific experimentation, Darwin's theories and religion. But it's summer and who cares about vivisecting literature? We care about enjoying a good book, so we're providing our own guide to The Island of Doctor Moreau.

First, a summary so that you don't get lost. The story is narrated by Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat and left on the island laboratory of Dr. Moreau. Moreau creates sentient beings from animals via vivisection. Themes include pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature, which makes it a fitting read during the dog days of summer. We take a firm stance against animal cruelty in this home and suffering the panther's experience in the House of Pain was tough on our soft hearts.

My 12 year-old expert, advises that The Island of Doctor Moreau be read aloud, preferably with a British accent and definitely with friends because the captain who dumps Prendick on Moreau's island curses like a sailor, literally and figuratively. He also suggests that you and your buddies get psyched up by chanting, "Are we not men?!" before tackling each chapter. The best part of this exercise is that, "it makes you sound less like men." We're cool if you lightly skim the part weighted down with Moreau's rant on scientific ethics.

Additionally, the time-honored tradition of reading a classic by watching the movie is extra fun in this case because the movies are extra not right. The first English language film version is Island of Lost Souls (1932) starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi. It is reported that Wells was delighted with it, especially due to its ban by the British Censor. We aren't a fan of censors either. This adaptation renames Prendick, adds a beautiful panther woman and includes a rescue. Even with the changes it's regarded as the best movie adaptation. In 1977 a film version starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York has Prendick again renamed, which begs the question, what is wrong with the name Prendick? Maybe the different name helps him land the love interest, who was not in the book. The latest film version stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer (1996). This movie brings the crazy. Moreau is not just scientifically curious but plum nuts. Professor Lupin plays Still Not Prendick (or even Parker or Braddock) but he discovers were-love too. None of these movies will help you pass the lit quiz, so just read the book unless you have the obsessive need to compare and contrast. In that case, watch the movies back-to-back.

Extra fun facts: Professor McGonagall is not an H.G. Wells fan (~3:20). Also, we've never seen it but apparently a young Tim Burton was inspired by The Island of Doctor Moreau. Perhaps other adolescent boys will likewise find inspiration in the book.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Stayin' Alive

I went to the doctor yesterday for a routine check up. I had some concerns that amount to, "you're getting older and all you do is sit in front of a computer." Those may have been the doc's exact words, but he's sending me for tests and gave me a referral to a cardiologist anyway. I figured this was the ideal excuse to get the family to do what I want them to do for a change.

First, I told my son that the doctor said I will have a heart attack if he doesn't play his guitar. I told my brother that it's his fault if I die because he sings White Christmas in my ear. The doctor definitely told me that Hubster has to do everything my way or start planing a funeral. My brother said I overplayed my hand with my son and that's why the guitar never came out of the case. He also said that White Christmas only has powers of joy and healing. Hubster said he'd get to planning my funeral.

This is why I have a daughter. I didn't have to tell her anything. She played her drums and piano for me, rather than torture me by singing in my ear, she stroked my hair, and so I'm giving her VIP passes to my funeral. My funeral is going to be an SRO disco party and very difficult to get in. Let me know if you'd like for me to add you to the list.

Darling Daughter mentioned to her drum teacher this evening that she learned in Girl Scouts that Stayin' Alive has the perfect beat for administering CPR and so they practiced it in case I did have a coronary. On the way home from lessons, the kids and I stopped at Sonic for a bite and then drove around with the windows down listening to Technotronic.

When we were done pumping up the jams, I explained to the kids that people used to drive up and down busy "strips" looking for friends. "In those days, you couldn't just text your whereabouts to everyone," I said. "It's called 'cruising'."

"We call it wasting gas," said Sarcastic Son. He had a point, so I turned toward home. As I did so, what song do you imagine came on the radio? I took it as proof that I am stayin' alive forever like my great grandmothers did.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

* with input from ParrishB, 6th grade, Mansfeld Middle School, Tucson

When we first mentioned Legend by Marie Lu in our social media feeds, we had to represent its dystopian goodness succinctly. We said, "If Katniss and Gale were Romeo and Juliet: Legend by Lu." We got that slightly wrong. Lu does love the Hunger Games (so do we) so the feel fits, but it's Les Miserables not Romeo and Juliet that inspired the relationship between Legend's power couple. Whatever the case, we highly recommend buying your teen, your library, yourself this first book of a trilogy.





In Legend the lives of an infamous 15-year-old boy gone rogue and a revered 15-year-old girl tapped for military service collide. They live in what was once the western United States and is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war. Criminal Day and prodigy June have no reason to meet until June's brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. As Day races for his family's survival, June seeks to avenge her brother's death. The two uncover the truth of what brought them together and the lengths the Republic will go to keep its secrets.

Lu states in her FAQs that initially June started out as a boy. She based the Day/June relationship off ValJean/Javert in Les Miserables. Her boyfriend convinced her to reconsider saying, "You know, it'd be so much more interesting if the teen detective was a girl." Lu agreed and so do we. Lu believes a romance between Day and June could have worked if they were both male with the same action and the same emotional arc but that a female June "helped round out the girls present in the story, because her personality was pretty unique among the female cast I had already lined up."

We had to think on this. The other female characters are likewise strong, capable and intelligent -- an army commander, a rebel street fighter, a skilled but vulnerable street urchin and a struggling single mother. It's not just the romance or the supporting female cast. June's gender enriches the book in other intangible ways that even 12-year old boys can appreciate.




CBS Films has secured the movie rights for Legend and they along with the production company Temple Hill (Twilight) will determine what any film adaptation will look like. We have our own opinion on how that might translate to the big screen. Elements of this story could be reflected with live action but Day seems animated, particularly the treatment of his hair. We asked Lu for insight into how she visualizes Legend. Her reply was quick and made us long to be her friend.

"Haha--I had way too much fun with Day's hair, I think!" she writes. Before she became a full-time writer she was an artist for video game companies. She starts each story by first sketching out the characters and a few concepts of the world. "I'm an extremely visual person, so I tend to write that way as well. I do see the book playing out as a film in my head as I work on it, and then I write down what I see."

We look forward to the movie so CBS and Temple Hill had better get it right. Also, we look forward to the second book in the series due out Fall 2012.

Legend by Marie Lu
G.P. Putnam's Sons, A division of Penguin Young Readers Group
ISBN: 978-0-399-25675-2

[First published on March 07, 2012 at Bookmans.com.]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Writing Job Killed My Writing Hobby

The Hubster and I had a weblog-like thing before that's what they were called. We posted pictures and wrote captions describing our activities. He posted graphs of his weight loss versus my pregnancy gain. No one read blogs, so we sent e-newsletter-ish messages updating everyone we know that we've updated our webpage.

It didn't take long for blogging platforms to become all the rage and I was on it. I even dabbled with vlogging. Turns out that takes a certain moxie I don't have. I started this blog and dreamed of getting the call all indie bloggers hoped for at that time -- the "blog for me" job offer. I got that in 2010 and my writing changed.

My life changed too. Many bloggers who didn't go the job route but the entrepreneurial route instead, hustled up advertisers and contributors and built communities around their own interests. That's all great and I'm so totally envious, but I didn't think that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep my quiet little life with my own thoughts, my environmental micro-movement and a focus on my kiddos. I need to take inventory to see if I managed that.

My writing is geared for promotion now, not insight. My mind is on how to engage, not to create community but to improve metrics. Documenting the little experiments and quiet moments at home is all but over. I cling to shared reading (right now The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). We still do projects, sometimes. I even share through social media, though it doesn't give me the same satisfaction as telling the story behind the moments.

I have a plan to scrape some of the better content that I've written for my employer and cross posting it here. It's almost true to my voice. Maybe just that little effort will reignite the desire to make my own accounting and refocus my attention on the heart of my home and not just the functioning of it. Maybe... if I actually do it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I want Chris Hardwick to invite Handsome Cpt. Dr. Sir Husband and me over to bowl. Chris would love us same way that if John Stamos could just meet the 6th grade me he'd fall in love like Elvis did Priscilla. In retrospect that would have been creepy, but try to tell that to the little girl who stared at his poster.




I seem to waste an equal amount of time watching Chris (we'd be on a first name basis) and his pals bowling. Jesse could be the Jon Hamm and I could be the (not) Felicia Day. We could play for our favorite charity -- Sonic Happy Hour. I mean the poor kids. Of course. Poor kids. Definitely them. Though... Hubster did say he'd prefer to play for the John Stamotopoulos Foundation for Name Preservation.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Ideal Mother's Day

Is it possible for a mother to shave her legs, clip her toenails and floss her teeth all in the same 24 hour period?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Friend Should Be the Next Top Self-help Author

In fifth grade I started hanging out with a boy-crazed, fiery and hilarious girl. By the sixth grade, I was devoted to her and moving to a new town where I wouldn't see her devastated me. I've always preferred friends to environment. Nearly 30 years passed and my thoughts of spectacular friendships always included Wendy. Where did she go and what has she done? In one of those fit-for-the-silver-screen situations, it turns out Wendy attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and eventually landed in Phoenix, just an abridged book on tape round trip from where the Hubster moved us in 2000.

I made Wendy pose with me in the bathroom last time we were together. She's a good sport like that.


I discovered Wendy's whereabouts a couple of years ago thanks to the amazing world of social networking, so thank you Zuckerberg for that. Others may think you're a tool for imposing annoying routine updates regarding a person's whereabouts or parental over sharing of children's activities or the gross abuses of our privacy. I am personally grateful that you brought Wendy back into my life. Since we reconnected, Wendy has been my date to two major events sponsored by my work, has written two guest blogs for my work and lent herself to a large event for my work. She also had her handbag stolen, but that's neither here nor there and not related at all to my job.

The point is that I loved Wendy as a child and I find her engaging as an adult. This morning, she sent an e-mail to me. The truth of it is obvious to me and because I adore her still, I'm passing it along.

"Hi! This is a difficult email for me to write because it requires being vulnerable enough to ask you for help. I am competing in a contest for a publishing contract. I need votes. Will you please take 3 minutes to vote? Then, would you ask the three people you speak to the most to do the same? For the past five years I have asked friends, students, clients, and family to help me with projects I have been involved with for others (Nuestro Barrio, 3 Day Walk, etc). Now I am asking you to help me personally. I really appreciate this and you get a free gift when you vote as a way to say thank you! I really appreciate your time and the favor.

Vote here: NextTopAuthor.com

Namaste,

Wendy"

If you go vote for her, you will have to register. I hate that, but I understand that it reduces duplicate votes while harvesting your address. I suggest a special spam account for that. Registration is painless and you will have helped Wen toward her goal. Even if you aren't inclined to go do that, you should at least watch the video. I love her video. I think it speaks volumes about Wendy -- both the one I remember as a child and the one I now know.

Monday, July 5, 2010

And those arms!

I left this man and this landscape for a single existence in a desperate desert.


I have responsibilities here and a firm hand on the children, though those capable arms are hard to do without.


We'll have to call him Cowboy Captain Handsome Hubster, Ph.D. from now on. I think he even looks ... happy. Don't you think?



Unfortunately, cell service stinks there, so I can't call him at all. A tragedy, really. I suppose I'll just meditate on this image for a while.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"What's a Movie?" "It's a form of entertainment that enacts a story by sound and a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement, but that doesn't matter right now."

Dad has pretty much always questioned authority, thumbed his nose at convention, and rebelled against whatever he felt like. He keeps his mind open for continuing revelations even when those are that the status quo ain't all that bad. For example, after much study he concluded that Elvis is probably dead and aliens are probably not a direct threat, but he's had enough of the hospital so, smell ya later.

Dad, this video is for you.



Since we don't have a television at the moment (CURSES!), I've been watching a lot of digital video discs. I stumbled across Young@Heart: You're Never too Old to Rock at the Pima County Library. This movie is my new best friend and proves that punk was around long before Punk. You don't have to have pink hair, though blue works nicely. I LOLed at this movie, but I was also deeply touched. Do yourself a favor, if you aren't going to rent the movie, at least Google their performances of Forever Young and Fix You, though they are more powerful in context.

I had dinner at "the club" with the Bendicksons the other night and we discussed the lineup for the 2010 Tucson International Children's Film Festival. In the past they have shown movies like Howl's Moving Castle, Egon and Donci, Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest, Shaolin Soccer, Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, The Red Balloon, White Mane, Strings, Please Vote for Me, Microcosmos and even US films like The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and Creature From the Black Lagoonin 3D. This year there are only two films that interest me. Perhaps the line-up is a little too Western? I've seen all the movies.

The solution? Saturday night Movie Time at the Bendicksons. Last week, it was on a Friday because the Bendicksons are all punk like that. They don't need no stinkin' badges. This week, they are going tropical with George of the Jungle followed by Tarzan. The plan is to wax nostalgic all DeAnza (RIP) like with their late night double feature picture show.

Perhaps they might consider City of Bees: A Children's Guide to Bees out of Denmark for a future screening ala Microcosmos. I always love to see insects buzzing about and kiddos running in fields in their underwear, but the narrator uses his preschool voice and that is a huge turn-off. The information is appropriate for an older kid and there is some sick propolis action. Also, there is a seven page guidebook that is a little worksheet-y and perhaps a twee young for my kids, but since the 8 YO Girl did a project on bees for Hawt Mz, she is on it like honey on a comb. And just for that local touch, the guidebook has a link to a University of Arizona URL that provides lesson plans for kids K-12.

For family night, Handsome Hubster rented Airplane! That part compelling him to push the envelope is still in tact. Somewhere, I lost my obvious punk edge (never could afford the accouterments anyway) and became a little mommy-two-shoes as evidenced by my watching City of Bees with the 8 YO followed by subsequent Internet searches for further study, but deep down I have the heart of a RebL as placed by my daddy-o, who never wanted me to call him "Shirley" either. Turns out Dad's cancer is Stage 4 and he'll decide soon if he wants to ward it off with chemo or garlic or both or neither. I'm grateful for my dad and the community who have come out in such numbers they sometimes must wait their turn. You can follow him and whatever he chooses to tell you here. As for me, I'm off to the Bendicksons.

Did I mention I am a sellout Amazon Associate? I am and even managed to make $2 off you suckers!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

On The Lighter Side, It Can Be Dark

When my great-grandmother died in 1987, my family trekked to Alabama for the funeral. Sissy Babe, the black nanny who had taken care of at least two generations of my family, cooked for us around the clock. We had fried baby catfish from the pond out back and fresh blueberry muffins made from fruit grown on vines over the back porch. I'm sure we ate other foods, but those were my great-grandmother's staples and the ones I remember, and covet, most. Sissy Babe made those and more for us.

The day of the funeral, I remember Sissy Babe hugging a huge stock pot with the stub of one arm (I don't know how she lost her lower arm; maybe she never had it), and stirring with the other. I told her to come on, we were getting in the car to go to the church. "No," she said. "I think I'll stay here."

"Are you kidding me? Put the pot down; we're leaving."

"I can't go," she said.

"Of course you can. We're taking you."

"No," she said simply, "I can't."

Then I understood -- almost. I was 16 at the time and pretty certain the world was fair because this country was founded on equality. That's what they told me at school. My mother had to provide confirmation of my suspicion. I regretted for a long time my highlighting for Sissy Babe a fact she already knew. While practically a member of the family for decades, she wasn't welcomed in a white church even to pay her last respects. Or maybe the worse recognition is that she could never be considered family.

I know that my enjoyment, whether I care to acknowledge it or not, of white privilege sets me up for all manner of discriminatory beliefs and behaviors. I can't know what it means to be defined by my color, for example. I can't know what it means to walk watched through a department store or have people hug their purses close as I pass by. I can be sure that pretty much all of America wants to educate my blue-eyed kids.

One could look at statistics and justify racist beliefs that force people of color to endure these not-so-subtle forms of discrimination. Minorities are poor and therefore lazy. Minorities don't fare as well on standardized tests and therefore are not that bright. Minorities are jailed and therefore bad. The inequities in employment, education, and justice, the institutionalized racism, are often marginalized in their oppressive abilities. People who live like that do so because they enjoy their permanent vacation. Who doesn't adore limited options? Those caught in the "surround of force" (Shorris), should just pull themselves up by their boot straps just like the rest of us didn't have to.

Ideally, we could move past affirmative action. Ideally, we could go on about our days without "celebrating diversity" and just celebrate it. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. We live in this one where we often look at an entire group of people and unfairly ascribe to them the worst bits of humanity without ever reflecting on our own human failures. Mexicans are without morals, but Vegas is a show place. Blacks are criminal, but employers of undocumented residents are business people. My parents cautioned me against the use of the term "white trash" because they failed to understand why anyone would categorize trash. Trash is trash regardless of color (or housing in the case of "trailer trash").

It irritates me that "rednecks" are considered uneducated rather than people who work hard out-of-doors. The term "Okie" is just painful to me. I'm from Oklahoma, but I'm not a dust bowl migrant nor a farm worker. Some people from my home state have adopted the term and wear it proudly. Maybe when people stop acting so damned surprised that I'm from Oklahoma or feel compelled to tell me how sorry they are for me, then I'll adopt the term. Until then, I'm an Oklahoman, thank you very much.

This is, no doubt, why it's important to ban Ethnic Studies and to discriminate on the basis of an accent. It's much better for people to think of difference (in color, tradition, belief) as shameful. If they feel pride in themselves, in their people, in their heritage, then they will demand equity. If they demand equity, then the rest of us have to share in our privilege. There is only so much privilege to go around.

Why is this still so? Why are we so fear driven as a society that someone else might get more than what we got? Don't we have more than our share already? Why then do we stratify our hatred as well? This group is worse than that one, but not as bad as the other. The past few years, I've been thinking that poverty is the strongest factor in our perceptions of worthlessness, but now I'm wondering if color, language, and geography aren't still more powerful. No one here complains of terrorists the way they do Mexicans.

I was touched by this article from Roger Ebert (sent to me by my buddy Brett) in which he attempts to assume the thoughts and feelings of the Hispanic child whose likeness was used in a Prescott, Arizona public school mural. The mural was meant to depict children using different forms of green transportation but instead showed that our culture can still be ugly, can still waiver on what's right, and even when a wrong is rectified, the scars can remain.