Aug. 18th, 2008

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All Girls: Single-sex Education and Why It Matters
by Karen Stabiner
320 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Education

My recent SHP summer class inspired me to read up more on education, and this book has a secondary focus on college--one of my pet research kinks. I was hoping to find insight into the women's vs. coed dilemma; however, All Girls is concerned with single-sex middle/high schools. One is a selective public NYC high school for disadvantaged girls (the first class is entirely minority), while the other is a prestigious West-coast private school with a history of single-sex education dating back to the "finishing school" era. If that sounds interesting, then you should read the book, because Stabiner does a decent job with the political and gender aspects. All Girls didn't quite meet my needs but I nevertheless enjoyed reading it, although it was perhaps a little slow-paced in exhaustively describing every character's personal history. I found the college acceptances and decisions fascinating, which I'm sure will surprise no one.

Good for education or college geeks, as well as feminists.
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by Catherynne M. Valente
121 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Poetry/Fantasy/Horror

I had such high hopes for Valente's work because of the consistently high praise from my flist. But as I'm currently stuck in the first hundred pages of In the Night Garden and as this review of Apocrypha will attest, I am sadly disappointed. Maybe it's my own fault for setting the bar so high, but Valente rarely manages to evoke that vital sense of wonder in this reader.

Apocrypha is a book of many poems, all fantastical or horrific. I had no idea that some were so dark; I do like dark fantasy, but Valente's version of gore is maddeningly repetitive. Every other piece uses cunt/breasts/womb, glass, or various gemstones. The macabre language ceased to shock me after the first two times, and by the time I read the last poem, "Z," I was yearning for the collection to finally be finished. To give Valente credit, her imagery is unique and lyrical; but all too often, her poetry echoes beautifully in my head with no real meaning or insight. I did like two poems in the collection, and since it is a slim volume, it will remain on my bookshelf. "Song for Three Voices and a Lyre" is an elegant feminist retelling of Greek myth, and the imagery of "Had He Never Come" actually ended with a surprising epiphany.

I will continue to struggle through Valente's much-acclaimed Orphan's Tales, but from the strength of Apocrypha I can only come to a poor conclusion--disappointing, in a word.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Breaking Dawn
by Stephenie Meyer
756 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

What you've heard thus far about Breaking Dawn? All true. I won't bother to repeat the criticisms. Meyer's prose is clunky but bearably so; in this book particularly, she invents way too many minor characters; and she doesn't understand the fundamentals of plot theory. The ending is a huge deus ex machina, a perfectly happy ending with no price paid--but if you've been keeping up with the news, you know all that already. As did I. So why do I continue to read Meyer?

Well, I'm a masochist, and a completist. I thought Twilight wasn't half-bad, especially for a first novel; but the series becomes steadily worse and builds to a climactic let-down in Breaking Dawn. I'm also disturbed by the conservative undertones--abstinence until marriage, Bella's vehemence against abortion, the whole destiny vs. free will debate regarding werewolf imprints, and most of all, the central idea that motherhood will change your entire life, meaning, and personality. That happens for many people, I'm sure, (hopefully including [ profile] kate_nepveu!) but Meyer presents it as a fact of life. (Of course, these are my personal political views intruding as reader bias.)

Just a few days ago, I was reading David Wolverton's daily email column on writing, and his topic was religion in genre fiction (no link or quote, alas--but you should subscribe! Say "Kick me" in the email), particularly fantasy. He talked about Christian roots and good vs. evil, all of which is true for epic fantasy (which I generally dislike for these same qualities, but that's a different issue). His point was that commercially successful fantasy writers avoid sex and obscenity in their fantasy, because otherwise the conservative religious readers will get offended. Magic-fearing evangelists notwithstanding, Twilight is a very conservative work. And it has been hugely successful. Exceptions come to mind--George R.R. Martin and Jacqueline Carey, plus many others who are popular with experienced/jaded fantasy readership--but I do think that Dave's rule is true, albeit "selling out." I would never have thought of it because I skipped from Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce straight to Guy Gavriel Kay, et. al., but my reading tastes are unusual for my age group. Things to ponder.


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