Resa's Bookshelf

Resa's Bookshelf

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Sci-Fi for a 5 Year Old

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I hate Christmas.

The family obligations, the togetherness, and, God save me, the carols.  Those of you who know me well, know that is enough to frighten me away.  But actually, none of those are the reasons I hate Christmas – it’s the gifts.  Gift giving is one of my high panic moments.  Every year I strive to get awesome gifts for my friends and family.  Gifts that will mean something to them and that they’ll really use and enjoy.  I stress about it.  I overthink.  I doubt.  At the end of the entire process I have what I hope will be awesome gifts, a month of lost sleep, and a dread for next year’s Holiday Season.

Until this year.  This year I was disappointed in one of the gifts I gave.  Every year I try to change up what I get for my best friend’s boys.  Two years ago, it was Legos.  This year was book year.  And I have to say, finding a sci-fi or fantasy book appropriate for a five year old tried my literary patience to the limit.  I wanted to find something fun and engaging that didn’t just include an illustration of a spaceship or an alien but at least a hint of the advanced concepts we’ve all come to love and enjoy from our sci-fi fiction.  I also wanted something he could read himself, rather than something that had to be read to him.  And remember it couldn’t be childish because this is a BIG boy we’re talking about here.  I spent half a day looking online, another couple of hours browsing the children’s sections of both my local chain and used bookstores and came up with… nothing.  Turns out, there is no such thing.  Have I stumbled on a completely unpublished genre, or did I just miss something?

On Amazon, the books that pop up in the sci-fi 3-5yr category are all the classics: Where the Wild Things Are, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.  All good reads, but I wanted something a little out of the box – something his mother hadn’t already gotten him.  More searching only turned up books I thought were beyond his reading comprehension, ones that looked so boring I was nodding off just looking at the cover and reading the synopsis, and ones that seemed to have little to no resemblance to sci-fi or fantasy.  My in store browsing experience was no better.  I thought the problem I was having shopping online was that it’s awfully hard to tell by glancing at the cover if the book was going to be either too difficult or too childish.  I needed to crack these things open and then, surely, I would find something suitable.   Yeah, no.  Cracking the books open just made things worse.

Where are the dragons?  Where are the adventures to other worlds?  Okay, so maybe werewolves and vampires are a little much for a 5yr old, but surely we can come up with something involving space pirates.  I mean, who doesn’t love space pirates?   There is no better time to expose someone to sci-fi and fantasy than when their imaginations naturally run their whole lives.  I’m also a big fan of teaching our children that sci-fi can be found off the TV screen.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that such fantastic stories are making their way to the big screen, but the book is always better…

So what, you ask, did I end up getting him?  A Star Wars popup book that I found at Costco.  I hear he loved it.  Thank goodness one of us did.

 

All About Skin

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Check out this advertisement. Yes, I know, but watch it all the way to the end. It’s really interesting to see how the resulting portraits and it’s a message we could ALL use. So: well done, Dove. Of course I do think this puts too much emphasis on outward appearances as a sign of self-worth, but that is unfortunately still the reality of our culture. The only way to change that is little by little and I think this add accomplishes a step in the right direction. To celebrate us as we are, now as we see ourselves. This might be the first time I’ve ever said this about an ad, but next time I’m in the store and I have a choice, I’ll be buying Dove.

Lying to Girls Won’t Help Get More of Them Interested in Science

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Recently, I’ve overheard a lot of discussion around my water cooler concerning how to get little girls interested enough in science and math to pursue careers in those fields. There has been a lot of media attention on the issue lately: CNN Money published an article titled, “Why secretary is still the top job for women,” The Big Bang Theory aired an episode where the characters chair a committee to encourage women in science, and the science journal Nature ran an article highlighting the achievements of four women who are both scientists and mothers and have managed to juggle both. All the recent media attention spurred a myriad of suggestions from my coworkers on how to fix this problem. I heard all the standard responses: science toys should be marketed to girls as well as boys, girls need better role models, and girls need to be reminded they aren’t naturally bad at math and can do anything. As the only scientist and engineer of the group, they all naturally expected me to nod my head and agree with all these ideas. I didn’t. I don’t necessarily disagree either, but I’ve seen the attempts at fulfilling these suggestions and have concluded: if this is how we’re approaching this problem, we’re doomed.

I absolutely think science toys should be accessible to girls, and not only because I want to buy all of them for myself. But I’m fairly dubious today’s manufacturing giants can do that in a way that isn’t… 1) insulting, 2) condescending, and 3) utter nonsense. Take, for example, the new ePad Femme and the girls Lego line.   These “female friendly” gadgets just make me want to catch girls as they run screaming from the toy store and remind them that science can, in fact, be fun and cool. Companies would be much better off toning down the marketing they’re doing to target boys directly, focus more on marketing those same products to a mixed gender group, and quit sprinkling everything with fairy dust, adding a kitten to the label and thinking they’ve completed a successful marketing campaign. As an added bonus they would only end up having to market one product instead of two separate products.  Do I think girls need to have played with techie toys to eventually pursue science as a career? No way. I didn’t have any of that. I had just as many Barbies and My Little Ponies as I had Legos (the old school versions that were… blocks). I never had a chemistry set. And most of my extracurricular activities focused on crafts and the arts, not robotics and model rockets. In the end, the toys I played with didn’t factor one iota into my higher education decision. Of course, I play with rockets now, but that’s definitely the subject of another article.

I also don’t believe there is any valid reason that girls can’t be perfectly competent in their math and sciences studies. It is completely unacceptable for girls today to be told they can never be good at math because: biology.  But we seem to have gone from one extreme to another and I think it’s also completely unacceptable to shove math and science down their throats. I was neither encouraged nor discouraged to pursue science. And, really, when was the last time a teenager did anything an adult told them to do? Our children need to be encouraged to pursue all their interests keyword being their.  If after being exposed to all the coolest science toys in the universe and watching every episode of Numb3rs the kid wants to learn to knit or be active in sports help them. Forcing a kid to memorize the Periodic Table and recite it upon demand is more likely to result in high therapy bills than a practicing scientist. At least, that’s not the kid I want calculating my future medicine doses or converting the amount of jet fuel needed on an interplanetary excursion. But, again, I managed to choose a science career without any of the advanced trickery schools are attempting today. I didn’t belong to any clubs or organizations that spent time focusing on scientific applications. My annual science fair projects were completed with the minimum amount of effort required and more often than not were subjective rather than objective (easier to fudge the results). While I was an avid reader, I wouldn’t characterize myself as being heavily into science fiction or fantasy. What I was encouraged to do was to pursue academic excellence in ALL my courses. There wasn’t any particular emphasis on math or science, In fact, I remember disliking my science classes in High School I can’t even remember who my chemistry teacher was. Yet I still managed not to let a poor (or at the very least “meh”) experience influence my future academic endeavors.

I also agree that female scientists should be proud of their achievements and do everything they can to help the next generation achieve more, easier, and faster. But I believe more often than not, we’re choosing the wrong women to act as role models and we’re celebrating their achievements the wrong way. Either choosing ‘superwomen’ who have had uncharacteristically hurdle free careers or glossing over the nuts and bolts of what hardships and sacrifices got them to where they are isn’t doing our young girls any favors. I agree with Erin C. McKiernan’s response  to the Nature article that in attempting to highlight the achievements of spectacular women sometimes we completely fail and end up accomplishing the exact opposite. And sometimes, like with this European Commission video, the results can be downright terrifying.

Today’s strategy seems to be to tell little girls “you can do anything!” Then twirl them around fifty times, point them in the direction of a bunsen burner, and let go. People, you should be ashamed of lying to these girls like that. Because the truth is, science and math are hard. Overcoming the social stigma against becoming a female scientist is harder. And maintaining a career as a woman in science? Crazy hard. But for me, and for many of these women, that was the point. When I was making the decision about what I wanted to be when I grew up, the adults in my life were very honest about the challenges and the odds that accompany pursuing a career in physics. And, honestly, if they had told me it was easy, I wouldn’t have done it.

I didn’t decide to pursue a science degree because I had nostalgic feelings about a toy I had played with when I was a little girl, because a string of role models had been paraded before me, or because my parents threw a parade every time I got an A in math. I chose to pursue a degree in science because I wanted to pick the most challenging and interesting subject I could find. And even though I had never particularly enjoyed my science studies in the past didn’t mean I wasn’t smart enough to know it didn’t have to be that way. So, how do I think society can best get little girls to pursue science and engineering careers? By encouraging them to challenge themselves in every aspect of their lives and being honest with them about the challenges and rewards they can expect if they do choose to pursue science as a career. Besides, those are the girls I want to see across the lab one day: the ones who knew how hard it would be and wanted to do it anyway.

Dead Writers

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Dead Writers

This March I made a purchase I absolutely couldn’t resist.  It’s a new perfume from Etsy shop SweetTeaApothocary called Dead Writers.  The shop description: “This blend evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more. The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.”  Not that I needed more encouragement to curl up with a book – I already barely see the sun as it is.  But I figured even if I decided not to wear it, I might want to wander around the house spritzing the air like Febreeze.  I’ve been wearing it for about a week now and it turns out: I’ll definitely be wearing it.


Evan was a little dubious when I mentioned my purchase.  Apparently “moldy books” and “sexy wife” don’t necessarily go together.  (Boy is he doomed.)  Anyway, once I got the amounts right (the stuff from the bottle is VERY strong and it took me a few days to figure out the right amount of application) both he and I decided it’s actually a very pleasant scent.  And, yes, it kinda smells like a Victorian library – at least what they smell like in my head.  The ingredient list includes black tea, vetiver (which I had to look up – it’s a grass), clove, musk, vanilla, heliotrope, and tobacco.  I’d say it’s a pretty heavy scent and might not be appropriate for summer wear (one benefit to the lingering snows), but after browsing the shop I found one that smells like honey and saffron that I just might have to try – if only I can be pried from my library long enough.

Grave Mercy

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Grave Mercy

Just finished reading Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers for the second time in preparation for the next book release.  I picked up Grave Mercy about a year ago at Barnes and Noble.  This one was a completely random pick – I actually grabbed it from one of those cardboard display towers because I liked the cover art.  Which proves that when publishers think that cover art is the #2 thing that will convince a reader to buy a book (those being #1 title, #2 cover art, #3 author name recognition) they aren’t wrong, and I’m lying to myself by thinking that I’m one of the elite special class on whom this tactic does not work.  This is a historical spy political intrigue romance story about assassin nuns (that’s right: assassin nuns, um, yes please) and I ended up having mixed feelings about the book.  There are definitely some issues with the writing (lots of canned turns of phrase) and a few points in the story I found myself saying “but why can’t she just…”  Even so, the story moves along nicely and the characters engaging enough that the issues didn’t distract too much from the experience.  Although it wasn’t the experience I was expecting…

The Grave Mercy jacket description leads the reader to expect heavy action with lots of spying, fighting and death.  And there was ample opportunity for all those elements in the narrative, but those opportunities were passed over.  In short (with no spoilers you couldn’t get from the book jacket), Grave Mercy is about Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer who escapes an adolescence full of abuse to discover she was actually sired by death himself.  She lands at a convent where she receives training to become an assassin, death’s own handmaiden whose purpose is to help criminals and traitors who have been marked by death to join him immediately.   I wish the author had dedicated some page space to the years of assassins training Ismae and her fellow initiates received rather than skipping straight to her first assignment outside the Abbey.  And while you do get to see Ismae using some of her assassin and more mystical skills, she ends up spending a lot of the book wandering around being frustrated about not being able to kill anyone.  Instead of being let down that my nun assassin book wasn’t living up to its promises, I actually found this twist to be the most interesting part of Ismae’s story. While the training the author glossed over seems to have prepared her for the physical act of assassination, it clearly left her woefully unprepared for spying, political maneuvering, false facing, etc.  All required tools to maneuver within the court of Brittany.  Watching the character learn from her mistakes and piece together a puzzle that makes her doubt her God, her calling, and her heart makes for a captivating story.

The historical setting provided an interesting backdrop (although the story is told in the first person present tense which is an odd choice for a historical novel) and is one that hasn’t been overused.  Anyone who isn’t familiar with Brittany in the 1500s should do just enough Googling to learn a little about the Duchy without actually learning the story of Anne of Brittany.  Anyone who can pull obscure historical facts from the depths of their brain might be disappointed with Grave Mercy as some of the subplot endings will already be spoiled.  Although, even without knowing the history, by the time you reach the end of the book it’s obvious where all the characters are aligned.  Grave Mercy is the first in a planned trilogy and while I wouldn’t say this book concludes Ismae’s story it definitely concludes this chapter of her life so you won’t be left hanging.  The next two volumes are slated to cover the stories of her two fellow initiates: Sybella and Annith.  Dark Triumph comes out 2 April. – of course I’ve preordered it.  I won’t be taking the day off work, but I’ll definitely be reading it.  The few glimpses of Sybella in Grave Mercy suggest she’s even more damaged than Ismae.  Should make for an interesting read.

Universe Beware: Theresa goes electronic

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Occasionally over the last few years, I’ve taken the time to write a review, opinion snippet, or informational piece about a book, news article, or activity that has crossed through my dance space.  I say occasionally, because just when I decide that weekly book reviews is a good idea, I also decide that trying to write a decent review in the amount of space you have on a Facebook post is laughable.  This time, I’m taking the big plunge and starting an online journal.  Yes, I know I’m kinda late to this whole online gig, but at least I have been reading these things for years.  Instead of posting about my own thoughts or experiences, I would usually just shake my fist at the computer and walk around all day grumbling to myself.  Well, I’ve been told that’s not particularly healthy, and everyone I used to grumble to stopped listening.  So, for the betterment of my personal relationships, and also to keep myself writing (because, hey, I love and miss writing) I’m switching formats.  Fair warning: I have wildly eclectic tastes, so you can find everything here from sci-fi book/film reviews to comparisons of crochet hook vendors.  I will try to post a new piece weekly, and will keep the content at the newbie level, assuming the readers (Hi Mom!) won’t know anything of what I speak.  Ready: begin.