First Edition Project

I’ve been working on a committee with a local Arizona organization called SouthWest Human Development. This group is very active in the community as helps give out tons of free books to local kids, as well providing free services like the Birth-Five hotline to help parents (which is especially awesome if you are a first time parent and have no clue what you are doing), Head Start, counseling services for families, and other great programs. In Arizona, according to Literacy Connects, “Only 13% of Arizona children entering kindergarten meet benchmark early literacy skills. 74% of Arizona fourth-graders test below proficient in reading.” These are staggering statistics, especially as the Phoenix Metro area has the highest concentration of libraries for any place I’ve ever lived in.

new-First Edition Flyer-updated

The committee is called Books for Babies and Toddlers Too (or BfBTT for short) and the purpose is to raise money for literacy programs for the organization after some of its funding was cut. They are doing that by looking for authors who will create a developmentally appropriate picture book. For more info, check out the contest here. It is running from July 15-Sept 15.  So the Books for Babies and Toddlers Too committee, myself included, are asking for donations to help help fund literacy programs, and please take the time to support this worthy cause before the donation period ends on Aug 6. They are looking to raise $10,000 to help getting the book published. Please become a champion for literacy and help get this book published, so that SWHD can provide quality books for local children.

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About a Girl

About a Girl

About a Girl (Metamorphoses #3) by Sarah McCarry

To be published: July 14, 2015

In the third book of the Metamorphoses series, seventeen-year old Tally (short for Atalanta) has got her life all planned out. She is a genius, beloved by her adopted family and her best friend Shane, and will shortly graduate high school and go to college to get her  Ph.D in cosmology and/or particle physics. That is until one day, while at a friend’s house and she sees a picture of her mother and a famous musician and believes he is the answer to her questions about her mother, who abandoned her shortly after she was born and her as-yet-unknown father. She travels to a small Northwestern town to meet Jack, the musician, and see if he can help her unravel her past. She meets a mysterious young woman named Maddy and falls head over heals in love with her. Will Maddy or Jack be able to help her find the truth about her parents? Read this intriguing new take on a coming-of-age story to find out. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.

If I had known this was the third book in a series, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It would’ve helped to read the first book at least, as that mentioned three of the major secondary characters in this volume. First off, I’d like to say that I loved how ordered and scientific Tally was, and even if I didn’t understand all the astronomy she mentions, I could tell how passionate she was about it. Tally’s best friend Shane was an interesting character as he was transgendered, though the author/main character never made a big deal about it, which was a change from other YA books I’ve heard about. I know how hard it is to be in love with your best friend growing up (mine were boys) and not be able to talk about, or express how you feel and how frustrating it can be especially if the person doesn’t return your affections. Then there is the whole mythological undercurrent to the story, which is loosely based on Jason and the Argonauts. This part was a little hard to read, and I could never quite decide if it was some giant trippy episode, some seriously vivid nightmares or actual plot points. Seems it might’ve been all three.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher St Martins Press in exchange for my honest review.

1957 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, narrated by Jonathan Davis

Originally published 1942, translation done in 1989

Albert Camus (pronounced “Alber Camu”)was born on November 7, 1913 in Mondavi, French Algeria. He grew up poor with his mother in Algiers after his father died during World War I. He attended the University of Algiers and studied philosophy, which is what he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in. It was during his college years that he joined the Communist party and later the French Anarchist movement. It was during WWII, in his work with the French Resistance, that he met Jean Paul Satre, who also wrote political commentary on the war. According to Biography.com, “In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to condemn the American use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He was also an outspoken critic of communist theory, eventually leading to a rift with Sartre.” Camus’s work was rife with absurdism, aka the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. He preferred not to call it existentialism, as that is what he felt Sartre dealt with instead. Camus was married and divorced twice, and seemed to dislike marriage as a whole. He died January 4, 1960 in Burgundy, France.

The actual story is about a young Algerian man named Mersault who is ambivalent about everything. His mother dies in the very beginning of the book and he goes to the funeral but is bored by it. When he returns home the next day, he continues with his life by starting an affair with a woman named Marie from his office and they go to see a comedy. She asks him later on if he loves her and he responds “Probably not,” but they still agree to get married. He becomes friends with Raymond, an upstairs neighbor and even vouches for the man as a witness with the police he abuses his girlfriend for cheating on him. In a way, hanging out with Raymond leads to his downfall. Raymond’s now ex-girlfriend’s Arab brother and the brother’s friends have started fights with Raymond, one of which Mersault was involved with. He and Raymond are at the beach that day, and later on as he is walking down the beach and the sun is beating down on him, Mersault sees the Arab brother and shoots him five times killing him. He is of course arrested and a trial ensues. The prosecution manages to convey that he is a heartless individual based on the way he handled his mother’s funeral and his subsequent actions. He is sentenced to death by guillotine. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.

I was not sure at all how to review this book as I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood the complexities that Camus was trying to convey with this seemingly simple short book. At first glance it seems to be talking about the absurdity of life and humans in general, and how we’re all going to die anyways so we might as well be happy, but I’m sure people have read/taught it many times probably think it is way more. As this reviewer has said: “Digesting the content will certainly take much longer [than the afternoon it takes to read it] as this little novel raises serious questions about morality, society, justice, religion, and individuality.” The one part I did enjoy about the book was at the very end as he is awaiting his execution and has the encounter with the priest. As this article says, “His only advantage, if any, is that he knows that he does not know anything except the succession of events that was his life. This certainty he cannot betray. That is why he revolts so violently against the priest who comes to console him. Consolation would mean substituting something else for the bare truth.” “

1954 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

Hemingway-photo-1937

These are books for my Nobel Prize Challenge. My first review was Toni Morrison’s Sulaand now my current review will be on Ernest Hemingway and his 1937 book To Have and Have Not and his 1952 novella The Old Man and the Sea. 

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

I honestly picked To Have and Have Not because of the 1944 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I haven’t seen all of it, but the scenes I have seen between them were smoking, so I figured why not give it a try as it sounded pretty good. Only problem is the film is set during World War II and is about getting away from Nazis, whereas the book is set in Depression era Key West and is about early Cuban revolutionaries. Hemingway originally wrote the book as a 2 short stories and a novella, and really only came about because of a contractual agreement with his publisher. I always thought of Hemingway as a man’s man, because he is almost always pictured shooting large game on a safari or bullfighting, and he worked as a foreign war correspondant for a newspaper before he became a writer. He was married four times, suffered from depression in later life and eventually committed suicide.

There are flashes of brilliance in the writing, but it is overshadowed by the tangintial storyline with rambles on and on. The whole book seems really disjointed because it starts out with Harry Morgan’s story, which was kind of fascinating, but then kept jumping into secondary stories like Richard Gordon, his wife, and the Professor who broke up their marriage. As Andrew Blackman said in his review of the book, “The main problem with the book is that it is schizophrenic. It’s a cross between an adolescent high-seas adventure story and a social analysis of the effects of the Great Depression. The writing style, too, is schizophrenic, lurching from first person to third person, from one character’s point of view to another’s.” Ok, I realize that this book was written in 1937 and being racist back in the day was considered socially acceptable, but it is kind of hard to read in the 21st century. Literally for the first five minutes of the audiobook, all the narrator said was the N-word. There are other racist episodes, which include more uses of the “N-word” and derogatory terms for Chinese and Cubans. Hemingway is also generally sexist towards women as well in the text, regarding them as frivilous and stupid.

To Have and Have Not

On to the actual storyline of To Have and Have Not. Harry Morgan is a down-on-his-luck fisherman who takes rich folks deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys. After his last pickup broke one his fishing poles and then skipped out on paying for it, and seeing as he has a wife and three daughters to support at home, he decides to take some illegal work, including ferrying Chinese workers to Cuba, smuggling liquor, and providing a getaway for Cuban gangsters who have stolen money from Key West to fund the revolution in Cuba. It becomes pretty obvious, early on, that Harry and his “rummy” (alcoholic) crew-members are part of the “have-not” crowd who have to struggle to survive, while the rich white men he takes out fishing or that stay in their yachts in the harbor are the “haves”.  The book is pretty dismal and sad, although I was never quite sure if I should root for Harry or not, as most of the trouble he got into was his own fault. One thing I did really like about the book is the relationship between Harry and his wife. Though obviously not a looker, Marie Morgan tries her best and keeps her bleached blonde look up for her husband. They seem to have a tender loving relationship, despite his prickly exterior and attitude to everything else. She is completely devastated at the end of the book when Harry’s actions ultimately lead to his death. 2-1/2 stars.

Old man and the sea

I decided that maybe I should read something a bit better from Hemingway, as he seems to actually be a good writer, but I may have picked his worst book. So I decided to read Old Man and the Sea to get a different perspective on Hemingway as a writer. Ok, I will admit that after reading the book, I am still not a Hemingway fan. I just couldn’t get into it. The story is about a decrepit old man who has been a fisherman all his life. He used to have a little boy who helped him but since his luck has run out, the boy is working for someone else. The old man has not caught any fish for eighty-four days (equals out to about 2-1/2 months, which if fishing is your livelihood, is a bloody long time). The boy trys to take care of him and make sure he is fed. The old man goes out in the morning, determined to get a fish today and he ends up battling the father of all swordfish for about 3 days before he finally manages to skewer it. Only problem is that because it is bleeding, this attracts three sharks that eat it before he can make it to land. By the time he does, only the head and skeleton are attached to the old man’s boat. You want the old man to succeed because he has had such a hard time of it and battling this enormous fish for three days, and also slowly going a bit crazy. But at the same time, you know he is doomed to failure. It was a depressing and sad book. Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.

1962 Nobel Prize for Literature winner

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1942 – audiobook version narrated by Gary Sinise

I had first read Steinbeck when I was about 11 or 12. We had to read The Pearl (1947) in middle school, and I remember enjoying it. So when I found out he had won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, I jumped at the chance to read another one of his books. I had heard from many people that Of Mice and Men was one of his best works, so I decided to give it a chance. I know most American teenagers probably read it in high school. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “Despite its long-term popularity, Of Mice and Men was banned in many schools and libraries for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language. The novella appears on the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.” It is also interesting to note that 90% of teenagers in Britain have to read it as well because it is “Short, comprising only six chapters, and its themes continue to be considered relevant to 21st Century society.” I’m beginning to think it is a conspiracy that the Nobel committee only chooses authors who write depressing books, or at least that is what I feel like so far in this reading challenge. Maybe it is just from the subject matter they pick to write about, and yes I know it is based off their own person experiences as well. I will make an exception for Pablo Neruda, who while he does have some sad poems, most of his poems are joyous.

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

John Steinbeck seemed to have a relatively comfortable childhood around Salinas, California (where at least four of his books are based) and had some of a college education. After publishing his first seven or so books, Steinbeck, like Ernest Hemmingway, was also a war correspondant. Steinbeck during World War II and Hemingway with WWI and the Spanish-American War. It is interesting to note that he wrote the screenplay for the movie Lifeboat in 1944, for director Alfred Hitchcock, only to have it drastically changed after he finished it. He tried unsuccessfully to remove his name from the credits. He also wrote the screenplay for Viva Zapata in 1952, about the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, which starred Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn. He wrote the book East of Eden, one of his most famous works, which was later turned into the film that starred a young James Dean.

The book Of Mice and Men is about two migrant farm workers named George Milton and Lenny Small in California during the Great Depression. They couldn’t be more different. George is short, quick-thinking, and in charge of the two. Lenny is a big gentle man who has the mentality of a small child. He cannnot fend for himself, and so must travel around California with his friend George. Both men dream of getting a small farm together where they can grow their own food, tend their own animals and “live off the fat of the land”. Lenny is particularly fixated on getting to tend the rabbits. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “A strong desire for the stability and refuge of companionship motivates most of the action in the novella, and the break of the strong homosocial bond between George and Lennie constitutes the work’s closing tragedy. The close friendship between the two men and the simplicity and tenderness of their dream makes Of Mice and Men a compelling psychological glimpse into the lives of migrant field workers, setting the novella apart from Steinbeck’s later, far more encompassing work, The Grapes of Wrath.”

George and Lenny have to quickly leave their last job after a misunderstanding between Lenny and a little girl. They are heading towards a new job in Salinas, California where they will be harvesting grain. We soon meet the other men that work at the ranch. Slim, the foreman, is the leader of their work team and one that everyone respects. Candy is an old man with an even older dog who lost his hand in an accident and is constantly worrying that he will get fired because of his age. Carlson is one of the ranch hands that hates Candy’s dog because of its smell and volunteers to shoot it to put it out of its misery (which of course Candy resents him for). Curley is short, claims he is a prizefighter and is always trying to pick fights with the other men on the ranch because he thinks everyone is messing with his wife. He is the ranch owner’s son, and is married to a young girl who all the men call a tramp, but is really lonely and desires companionship. Crooks is the black stable hand who feels slighted by the other men because of the color of his skin. Candy asks George and Lenny if he can join them on their farm as he has money for a down payment and they agree to have him along to do odd jobs. Slim’s dog has a litter of puppies and Lenny begs for one, and later Slim has to send Lenny away from the barn for petting it too much. Curley takes a dislike to Lenny from the beginning because he is large and tries to pick a fight with him after failing to start one with Slim for hanging around his woman, which gets his hand accidentally crushed by Lenny. Slim tells Curley not to tell the boss about what Lenny did to him and try to get George or Lenny fired, or he will become the laughingstock of the entire ranch for getting his hand crushed by a simpleton. The next night all but Lenny, Candy and Crooks go to a brothel in town. Lenny wanders into Crooks’ room on the side of the barn and talks to him about his dream of living on the farm and tending rabbits, and Crooks foreshadows the end of the book by telling him that he’s heard many men over the years with the same dream who never make it. Candy comes in and convinces Crooks that what Lenny has told them is true. Crooks asks to join them, but they are interrupted by Curley’s wife. She leaves after learning that all the men have gone to the brothel. Alone in the barn the next day, George accidentally shakes his puppy to death after it bites him. He is a bit traumatized by it and frantic because he doesn’t want Lenny to not let him take care of the rabbits on their imagined farm. Curly’s wife walks in and tries to flirt with Lenny, who of course doesn’t really want to talk to her because of George’s previous warnings to stay away from her. He tells her he likes soft things and she offers her silky hair for him to touch. After a short time, she thinks he is messing up her curls and yells at him to stop. He panics, holds on tighter and then puts a hand over her mouth to quiet her down. In their struggle, he accidentally breaks her neck. He is again devastated at his actions because he fears George taking away his rabbit tending rights, and runs away to cover his tracks. George quickly finds out what he has done, and he tells Candy to tell the others. Once Curley finds out, he plots revenge and wants to shoot George in punishment. Lenny manages to get their first and does what he feels is right. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I liked George and Lenny’s relationship, which was definitely not the most traditional but it worked for them. Each of them needed companionship and the other filled that role. Lenny could not survive without George and despite George’s objections, I don’t think he wants to live without Lenny. I always feel drawn to characters like Lenny who have mental disabilities as I had a cousin that I was close to growing up that was the same way and I never saw her as different and always treated her the same as everyone else. I liked Slim, who seems to be the only one who has sense. There was a fair amount of cursing, but considering that nearly all of the characters were men and given their profession and lack of education, it is not surprising. Unlike Hemingway, whose book To Have and Have Not was written about the same time (four years earlier) and had similar terminology relating to racism and sexism, and set during the Great Depression, I thought the language was way better in this book. It was actually a joy to read, aside from the depressing storyline. I will admit that I teared up at the end of the book, sitting in my car in the dark to finish it up before I came inside my house last night. I look forward to reading more Steinbeck in the future, and it’s looking like I might try to read East of Eden as two people have recommended it to me.

Phoenix Comicon Day 2 and 3

Friday I was volunteering at the Youth Art Room table for Phoenix Public Library at Comicon. We saw a ton of people and made a bunch of free buttons and they made some cool masks. I even made one. I took a pic of this guy dressed up like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon because it was a cool costume and I knew my son would love it (he did). There was also a guy dressed up as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill with an enormous foam head and sword, who looked something like this (pic below).

Toothless - Day 2 Comicon

Pyramid Head

Saturday was the first day I’d really had to browse the exhibit hall. This is the first real weekend of official summer weather here in Phoenix, over 100 degrees. So that plus mixing with over 1000 people in one large space means a lot of sweaty bodies and not much air conditioning getting around. I felt like this year, more so than two years ago, there was a lot less for reasonable prices.They were charging almost as much for kid’s shirts as adults. Plus there didn’t seem to be as many authors, or at least not as many cool ones. I totally missed Diana Gabaldon and by the end of browsing through the exhibit hall, I wasn’t interested in any panels, just going home. I did get a free Star Wars book and two pairs of cute earrings, so it wasn’t a total waste. Plus I caught a glimpse of actors Edward James Olmos, Summer Glau, David Morrisey (played in Walking Dead), and Jason Isaacs (who played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). I sadly missed seeing Karl Urban (Eomer in Lord of the Rings, and of course Dr. Bones in both the new Star Trek movies) and I think Ron Perlman (star of Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy) would’ve been fun to see too. Sadly I couldn’t get anyone’s autographs because at $30 a pop, I don’t think so. I’m perfectly fine with observing from a distance.

I totally forgot to bring my phone with me yesterday, so I have no pics to share. But I will include some that our local newspaper took of costumes that I thought were particularly cool. As with the first and second days, there was a lot of video game/anime/manga-influenced characters, with a couple of historical figures thrown in for good measure. I even saw a guy dressed up like a British Red Coat. The light rail is definitely the way to go to get there, even though the walk back to my car afterwards (in the heat after walking quite a bit for past few days) felt like a million miles away. I’m pretty much a people person and my job is basically customer service, so I’m used to dealing with people all the time, but man, that was way too many people. I was feeling seriously claustrophobic.

King Arthur and Patsy - Day 3 Comicon

King Arthur and Patsy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I saw these two on my way out)

Steampunk Ghostbuster - Day 3 Comicon

Steampunk Ghostbuster

Steampunk Storm - Day 3 Comicon

Steampunk Storm from X-Men

Phoenix Comicon 2015 – Day 1

I haven’t been back to a comic convention since I went to my second one (though my first major one) two years ago. Again this year, the library is allowing people to help out in the Youth Art Room at Phoenix Comicon and I jumped at the chance to do it. I missed it by two weeks last year. Extra added bonus, I got a free full event pass to the event! So I went today to pick it up, despite only having about 4-5 hours of sleep last night, which was mostly my fault as I had stayed up to read more of the third Outlander book, Voyager. The author, Diana Gabaldon, is supposed to not only be signing copies of her book on Saturday but also doing a panel at Comicon, so naturally I will be going back. I am a latecomer to the Outlander series, having only discovered it about a month or so ago after finally getting to watch the first season of the new Starz show, highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet. It has a bit of everything in it, for guys and girls. I mean how can you not totally lust over actor Sam Heughan’s version of Jamie Fraser, with his long curly red hair, kilt-wearing, Gaelic speaking, Scottish-accented self! (Note: the pics below don’t really capture the hotness as well as I would like, but you get the idea.) I was definitely enthralled, but the show actually has a really good storyline too, except for the fact as I found out after reading the first book, that the first season only covers about 40% of the actual story. Not to mention, if you read further in the books, you discover that Jamie’s incredibly strong yet vulnerable, well-read, and pretty smart. So pretty much the perfect fictional man…Le sigh.

Jamie Fraser in KiltJamie Fraser shirtless

Anywho, back to my original story. I decided to pick up the event pass, which I assumed would be a pretty quick thing but the process dragged on for an hour. I was thankfully saved by the lovely volunteer coordinator who not only waited in line with me to get my pass at the correct location but also showed me where I was supposed to go tomorrow. I was impressed by the kinds of kids programming they had available there, which is great as there was a ton of kids. I had a little time before I had to go pick up my son from daycare, so I decided to walk around and see if I could check out the Exhibition Hall (example pic below at bottom of page), where the main vendors, authors, comic book artists, and celebrities were going to be. Only problem, as I found out, was that the freaking hall didn’t open up until 4pm and I had to stand around for roughly another hour before I could get in. Plus then I only had an hour to browse before I had to leave. I did get some free stuff from Dark Horse Comics and bought a couple of things while there, but as usual, most of the cool stuff was out of my price range.

Comicon logo

If you’ve never been to a Comic Convention, it can be a little overwhelming, but still pretty fun. It’s definitely the best place to be as nerdy as you want and celebrate that fact, as well as wearing whatever costume from popular culture you can think of – mostly today there were a lot of video game, anime, manga/comic, movie and TV show characters. There was a guy dressed up as Butthead from Beavis and Butthead (it was more of a giant head), there was a gaggle of girls dressed up as My Little Ponies (both shows originally were popular and came out when I was a kid, and I know for certain most of these kids weren’t even born then, but that’s a whole other thing), a kid dressed up like a tape recorder, a guy dressed up as a Nintendo Game Cube, someone with a whole Loki costume, many girls in scantily clad outfits (mostly anime characters I think), one really cool looking Red Royal Imperial Guard (ala Star Wars), a kid in a Darth Vader costume, a kid in a full Stormtrooper costume, and tons more. The energy there is crazy. For example, about 10 minutes before we were allowed to go into the exhibition hall, one of the staff guys starts getting everyone to make noise, i.e. screaming and clapping and we all did it. Mostly b/c we could be loud and also because I think most people (or at least me) were tired of standing in line and just wanted to get in already. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic because the amount of people in there was insane! And it was a freaking Thursday, a day I figured most people wouldn’t be there because they had to work. While I had been waiting in line the third time to get my pass, the vounteer guy told me they were expecting anywhere from 75-90K people this year. I can believe it. Last year they apparently had over 77,000. They’ve got an impressive list of actors there again this year, and I am hoping to see some of them, at least from afar as I can’t afford to get signatures or have a photo taken at $30+ a pop. Last time I was there, they had John Barrowman, star of Torchwood and several Dr. Who episodes, who is so campy but I love him. After my 3 hours there today, I was tired, had sore feet and felt totally drained. I will be back tomorrow morning to do my volunteer shift as part of my work shift and then have to come back to work in the library in the afternoon. Hopefully my feet will stop throbbing by then.

Phoenix Comicon Exhibition Hall