butters galore!

So, my classes for fall are ready to go, and they don’t start until next week.  My dissertation is awaiting approval.  So I’ve got some time on my hands, and it’s produce season, and I’ve got a ton of that, too.  There’s only so much produce one can eat…what to do? Well, I made me some butters….and since many of you asked for various recipes, here’s just a few:

Peach Butter

4 large or 8 small ripe peaches

1/4 to 1/2 c sugar (depending on how sweet your peaches are)


lemon juice
peel, pit and chop the peaches.  put ’em in a saucepan (go bigger than you think, since they tend to splatter), and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the saucepan about a half inch (if you have really juicy peaches, you may not even need the water).  Add 1/4 c sugar, and bring to boil.  Boil for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for about an hour, stirring frequently.  Add more water, and sugar or lemon juice (to cut the sweetness) if needed, during this time.  Puree in a blender and put into jars (or even tupperware).  Can in water bath for 15 minutes or skip the canning and just keep in the fridge.

Butternut Cardamom Butter

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chunked

2 c water

1 c packed brown sugar

1 T cinnamon

1 T cardamom (or more…to taste)

Put all of this in a sauce pan, and like the peach butter, bring to a boil, boil 10 minutes, then lower heat and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half.  When the squash is really soft, puree in a blender.  Taste, and add more sugar, cinnamon or cardamom if you like. Pour into jars.  Can for 15 minutes in hot water bath or store in fridge.

Mock Apple Butter

1 big honkin’ zucchini, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1/4 c apple cider vinegar

2 c sugar

apple butter spices you like (cinnamon, allspice, cloves, etc)

put everything in a saucepan, and as before, bring to a boil.  But this time, boil for about 5 minutes only (otherwise, the sugar will caramelize, and you’ll have caramelized semi-raw zucchini chunks…yuck!).  Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until zucchini is soft. Puree.  If it’s too thin, return to pan and keep simmmering (zucchini releases a lot of water, and can make your puree pretty thin).  Watch out…it splatters!  Pour into jars, and can or keep in fridge.

Ginger Pear Butter

6 cups pears, cored, peeled, and chopped (depending on the size of your pears, anywhere from 6 to 12)

1/4 c water

1/4 c sugar (or more, depending on how sweet your pears are)

1 T ground ginger OR 1 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

Put everything in a pan. Bring to a boil, boil for about 10 minutes (if your pears are really hard, boil for about 15).  Turn the heat down and simmer for about 1 to 1.5 hours, or until the pears are REALLY soft.  You can, if you want chunky pear butter, just mash it with a potato masher at this point, or puree and put into jars.  Can or keep in fridge.


Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm  Comments (3)  

in which I whine just a little

The good thing about being as educated as I am? I can get in front of a classroom, and teach.  I can also read, I know some pretty great people, and I really, really love my job.

The bad news about being an almost PhD is that in this economy, there’s a lot of us looking for work.  And okay, I get it. Times are tough, and all of that. But you’d think someone would LOVE to have me work for them as a part-time employee.  I’ve got a killer work ethic, I have consistency, the ability to read, write, and think, solve problems, and act independently.  And what I don’t know how to do, I can learn pretty quickly.  Oh, and I make a damned fine trainer.

So how did I find myself here, worrying about how to pay the internet bill, or debating if I should pay the water or electric bill now, how I’m going to pay for gas to get to Prescott for a mandatory meeting next week, and how thank goodness the food stamps came in on Sunday?  How did I go from being someone with enough money to pay the bills and go see a movie without thinking about it to worrying that something might go wrong with my car, because between now and payday, which doesn’t happen until September, I have JUST enough money to get change for the yard sale on Friday?

Okay, sure, some of it’s moving here, to a smaller town with fewer jobs, but every single job I’m even remotely qualified for that I’ve applied to (and yes, even the jobs that I’m so overqualified for it’s not funny — yes, McDonalds), won’t hire me because, well, I’m overqualified. I applied for a bartending gig and was told that because I was an assistant manager in a bar in California, I’d be ‘bored’ working there.  It’s getting a bit silly.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I wasn’t as educated as I am. Then maybe Wal Mart would hire me.

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm  Comments (3)  

an open letter to the new owners of blackboard

Dear Providence Equity Partners,

I hear you’ve bought Blackboard. I’m so happy for you. Now, as a user of Blackboard, I’d like to draw your attention to some things. Nothing earth shattering, mind, just a few things about your new LMS that you might want to know.  You say that your objective is “to build extraordinary companies that will shape the future of the media, communications, information and education industries.” That’s great news. But I have to tell you, I think you might have gotten a wee bit suckered by Blackboard. Just because it’s the largest LMS in use doesn’t make it the best. Far from it, in fact. It’s clunky, in truth. Rather clunky.  Here’s a few things you should know about Blackboard.

It functions, but not horribly well. It won’t play nice with Microsoft’s Explorer (not that I’m complaining, I’m on a Mac, but a lot of my students have PC’s, and aren’t nearly as tech savvy as I am). That should probably be addressed. The fact that some of the features only work some of the time, or that fixes are tedious, are also issues you need to address if you want ‘extraordinary’. Moodle, WordPress, and EnGrade, which are all cheap to free, handle the same things Blackboard does, and better (although the integrated aspect goes to Blackboard).

It’s pretty damned ugly. The options for ‘personalizing’ Blackboard are limited, and limited in ways that make Facebook’s plain skin look nice. While I appreciate a slimmed-down look, when it’s both sparse and ugly, well, to coin a phrase, spugly doesn’t look good for ‘extraordinary’ either.

That pesky little problem with cut-off really needs to be dealt with. In the wiki portion of Blackboard, the whole right side gets cut off once you’re out of edit mode. Really? How is that extraordinary? I don’t have that problem with WordPress. It would seem to be a relatively quick fix. Otherwise, I think I’m going to have to go outside Blackboard…and look, it’s FREE.  And where are the video capabilities? Google’s new Google+ seems to be stealing that market share, and Facebook does an excellent job of allowing me to create a ‘class’ space where social networking really works. Yeah, I can add a YouTube video, but not vimeo or hulu. And really, should I force students to buy PowerPoint or another presentation software (yes, there are free ones out there, but) if I want to do a presentation?

You see, Providence Equity Partners, I’m all for you growing your $22 billion in assets. So here’s my solution. Hire some tech folks (and please, women do programming too, so keep that in mind), and rebuilt the sucker from the ground up. Include current tech capabilities, and allow for new ones. Add a decent chat feature, a video feature, more customization options, social networking options, and make it stupid proof. Then, and only then, will you have an extraordinary product. Otherwise, you may just end up like Rupert Murdoch, selling it for a 5th of what you paid for it. Just saying.



Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

the problem of place

This post is not about living in the gods’ forsaken middle of nowhere. I actually don’t mind that, truth be told. Yes, yes, I miss Trader Joe’s not being within 100 miles of me, I miss ethnic food other than americanized Mexican and almost-but-not-quite Thai, and seeing indie movies in a theatre, but by and large, it’s not bad. I have a whole house, replete with claw-foot tub, my own laundry room, and a huge kitchen, for what I’d pay for a room in the OC. So this is not about geography.

This is about being at a place in my life. A place a lot like here, but just a wee bit further down the path. I thought I’d have a house by now, and a dog, and an office. A place where it wouldn’t matter quite so much that it took me a couple of years to meet people, because I knew I’d be here a while. A place where I could feel…settlted.  Instead, I am not quite done with my PhD (although I am going to finish it, if only as a big FU to certain folks…and because I’ve invested far too much time to stop now), my career is in stall mode (adjuncting, while it — barely — pays the bills, isn’t exactly my dream job), and I’m alone far more often than I’d like to be. I’m not lonely, per se, although yes, I do get moments where I’d love to see more familiar faces, and have somewhere to go on a Friday night, but I spend an awful lot of my time alone in my head. With my thoughts chasing each other around like weasels chasing …well, whatever it is weasels eat (chickens, maybe?). And then I arrive at this place, where I can’t sleep and I’m too tired to do anything substantial, like, say, work on that aforementioned dissertation.

But in the end, this is the place I’ve come to, both mentally and geographically, and it is up to me to make the best of it.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 3:42 am  Comments (2)  

Grayling’s enterprise

When AC Grayling announced his London-based New College of the Humanities, I didn’t think much about it, truth be told. it was in England, which has a quirky way of doing things, education-wise, and it just wasn’t on my radar. Some people lauded the effort, but the majority thought on it seems to be that Grayling’s private college, with its tuition somewhere around £18,000 a year (which, if you think about the traditional 2 for 1 ratio the pound seems to have, is about on a par with private universities in the US), is downright wrong, largely because it allows the British government to point to it and say ‘see? we can stop supporting the universities so much.’ Grayling’s response, as one would expect, says that the NCH isn’t going to stop the government from defunding higher education.  Both Grayling and his critics are right, and they are both wrong.

Let’s start with what his critics got right. One states that students who ‘should have gotten into Oxbridge’ (‘Oxbridge’ being an amalgam of Oxford and Cambridge) are the target audience for NCH. That’s sort of like saying the students who ‘should have gotten in to Harvale (you’ll figure it out). The problem with this is that there are other many fine schools in England (the University of London comes to mind for me), and what about those schools? Is Oxbridge the end all, be all? Should it be? But like the Ivies in the states (and a few others, such as Berkeley), the cachet is irresistible. The same critic adds that an NCH degree will look, in her words, ‘bought and paid for.’ Certainly, there is an element of the old boys’ club to that sort of thing, but unlike, say, Yale, there’s no history of legacy admitting at NCH. It’d take a while to get there (200 years sounds about right). Another critic finds the whole enterprise ‘odious’ because the price tag means poorer students will have no chance. It’s a fine point (although strongly worded), but the same can be said for many state schools on this side of the pond. With state support being cut, tuitions are climbing higher and higher…the UC system has topped the $10,000 mark, and while some state schools still remain affordable, the figures from 2004 are simply pipe dreams now. Access is being restricted across the US, largely because schools are finding it necessary to raise tuition at rates far above inflation simply to cover the staggering loss of state funds. For instance, in my small corner of the world, our state funding was cut nearly 80% in one year. There are only so many ways to make up for such losses, and tuition is one of them (perhaps the easiest one, but at some point, even that will break). The letter in the Guardian from University of London faculty argues that in the face of such cuts, academics have to stick together, and the mere fact that the NCH exists gives politicians an ‘out’, if you will, in supporting education.

Grayling’s response, that the economic and political reality is that funding is going to get cut, and he wasn’t going to wait around for the education system to collapse, is certainly forward-thinking. He’s right — the ‘chronic underfunding’ of higher education has been going on for years; the recent economic crisis in many countries around the world has simply accelerated the process.

What remains unspoken, in both the critics’ and Grayling’s letters, is that the humanities have become something of a target. How many times do we in the humanities have to hear some variation of ‘the humanities cost more than they bring in’ (despite the fact that it’s a flat out lie, mind you)? The skills we teach — critical thinking, argumentation, cogent writing and an understanding of how we got here — are vitally important, but undervalued. The NCH is an attempt to change that view, to put the humanities, such as they are, back on the map.  While I don’t know that I agree with the way Grayling is going about it, I do sympathize with the impetus behind his plans. Cultural knowledge, the kind fostered by the study of history, classics, and philosophy, has declined.

Certainly, in a globalized world, only knowing the history of the West is a bit narrow. But it’s still something that should be taught. I find myself dismayed at the lack of historical knowledge my students bring to the classroom (or don’t bring, as the case may be). They know about WWII, but they have no real idea, other than ‘Hitler was a bad guy’, what the causes were. They know that there was a USSR, but don’t know how or why it collapsed. They know China is an economic powerhouse, but don’t understand the role of communism (both positive and negative) in that expansion. And although they know that India is a cheap place for call centers, they have no idea why that might be. When I ask my students to research a topic in American history between 1492 and 1865, I get asked if it’s okay to research the Civil Rights Movement. In my writing classes, not a single student can look at a sentence and tell me what the parts of it are.  They don’t know an adverb from an adjective. Heck, I learned that watching Saturday morning cartoons (hello, Schoolhouse Rocks)! So I understand where Grayling is coming from.

And by the way, sir, you don’t have any openings for someone who enjoys teaching, and loves history, do you? Because I’m looking.

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  

on feeling, well, defeated

Tom Morrissey, the county chair of the Republican Party in these parts, never misses a chance to use Obama’s middle name. Yeah, it’s Hussein. Which is sort of like a Middle Eastern version of, say, Kevin. Maybe not in the top 10 baby names, but certainly not unusual. And Tom? Trump didn’t FORCE anyone to do anything…it was more a matter of ‘hey, we have more pressing things to deal with, so here, LOOK at this thing, sit down, and shut the hell up unless you’re going to say something meaningful.’

And what is meaningful these days? We should be having conversations about the fact that our education system is crumbling. I’m not talking ‘gosh, there’s 35 kids in a classroom’ crumbling, I mean falling down around our ears and in crisis mode crumbling. The Detroit school for pregnant teens got a reprieve just days ago.  This school gives girls who would otherwise never have much of a chance to get out of poverty at least a fighting chance…why  would we even consider closing it? I’ve posted here before about the myth that teachers are overpaid…and every single bit of evidence proves that myth to be a huge, huge lie. Why are we still talking about it as if those claiming teachers only work 9 months a year, have summers off, only work 6 hours a day, blah blah blah have ANY validity whatsoever? Why are we even giving them the time of day?! Every last bit of economic information says that slashing the tax rate of the wealthiest Americans won’t do a damned thing for our economy, that giving them a tax holiday would hurt, not help, and 30 years of evidence shows that trickle-down economics is, to put it bluntly, the ‘voodoo economics’ Bush I said it was. So how is it that Tim Pawlenty can be considered a serious contender for the presidency?

So I’m feeling a bit defeated. In the 1950s, 60s, and even 70s, we were a nation of people who got things done. People who sent people to the moon, people who built bridges and dams and roads and created art and music and literature that was up there with the best. We were once a nation that gave a shit about students knowing our history. We once thought the Founding Fathers were really great guys who had some great ideas, but understood that a well-to-do gentleman farmer in Virginia in the 1770s couldn’t have foreseen everything. That the Constitution would have to be interpreted because he couldn’t. We understood what we were fighting for (okay, well, Viet Nam was a bit of blip on that radar, but). We understood that America was a big ass country, and that different opinions on things were just that — different opinions.

Back in WWII, Walt Disney made a series of propaganda films for the government showing how silly the Nazis were. And there are certainly thousands of propaganda posters out there showing some really incredibly offputting images of the Japanese and Germans. But we were at war with them. Now it’s okay to say the president ‘hates’ America, or even ‘white people’. People who don’t agree with Glenn Beck are painted as communists, socialists, haters. It’s okay to put a Hitler mustache on a picture of the president, or to claim that those who disagree with you are agents of Satan. These are your fellow Americans. These are the people with whom you might fundamentally disagree, but are they really evil? And does that mean we at war with ourselves, then?

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm  Comments (2)  

a break from the bruhaha

I was thinking about all the stuff I could write about this week…new books on the end of tenure, the continuing downward spiral of the housing market, the reports on student loan debt, the looming debacle that is the debt ceiling…oh what else is there? Sarah Palin’s rewrite of history (and her fans’ attempts to rewrite the Wikipedia page to prove she’s right.  Sorry, history doesn’t work like that) and Anthony Weiner’s…well, weiner.

In fact, this last week has been filled with so much political and academic Chicken Little’ing that it’s all rather …too much for my little dissertating brain to deal with.  Okay, that’s not true. I *could* deal with that, and even go on a nice little rant against Paul Ryan’s use of ‘demagogue’ as a verb, but instead, I thought I’d reflect a little on the escape from reality that is a Comic Con.

Memorial Day weekend, me and The D went to Phoenix Comic Con.  While not the giant behemoth that is San Diego (or DragonCon, for that matter), it was pretty damned respectable; somewhere near 25,000 people attended. Me, I volunteered to moderate panels. Had a blast doing that, by the way, and one good thing about Phoenix is that because someone like, say, Johnny Depp (or gods and goddesses forfend) the Twilight cast isn’t running around, there are far fewer handlers, agents, blah blah blah. So I got to meet some pretty cool people. Max Brooks was there (and suddenly, that haunting familiarity I felt every time I looked at his image made sense…he’s Mel Brooks’ son.  Next time, Max, bring Dad. I wanna chat with him, too!).  Adam Baldwin was there (and despite what he said, I’m still hoping for that Firefly reboot).  Aaron Douglas and Paul McGillion were damned funny.  And if you ever have a chance to go to a Con and listen to George Takei, I highly recommend it. Articulate, funny, and tells the best damned stories. After all, It’s Okay to be Takei! (and I do wish he’d brought the shirts with him…I’d have bought one!)

But even better than the famous people (damn, Stan Lee looks good for his age!) were the artists, writers, and fans who made Phoenix Comic Con such a wonderful place to be. I never worried that The D, at 15, was in any danger, and after a bit, told her to go wander. She had a blast, hooking up with fellow fans of Hetalia Axis Powers and other anime, and meeting Vic Mign…something!, one of the voice actors. We attended the Steampunk Ball, and the Geek Prom (which raised over $10,000 for Kids Need to Read, an organization dedicated to getting books into the hands of kids…a worthy, worthy cause!).  I met Jacques LaGrange, a native American comic book author with a native American hero. Albert Morales, who works with the HERO Initiative, which helps comic creators get access to the help they need, such as medical services and housing in their old age (for those who didn’t know, many of the creators of the classic comic books were paid next to nothing, and had no insurance or benefits).  Cherie Priest, who really is one of the nicest authors I’ve ever met, and was lovely enough to sign my copy of Boneshaker as she waited for her panel to start. The Moderators, a group of excellent, hard working folks who really do love helping out. The vendor who gave me tips on what household items in thrift stores provide the best gears for steampunking, even though I didn’t buy a thing.  My friend Galen, who fed my kid one night, and walked her to the Con Saturday morning. All the people who saw my Volunteer badge and assumed I knew something who were incredibly cool when I said ‘sorry, but let me walk you to the info booth.’  Randy Milholland, Danielle Corsetto, and Spike Trotman, who made moderating the panel on webcomics beyond easy…has anyone seen Randy’s beard? It’s awesome. The guy who bought me a soda because he saw my badge and thought it was cool I was volunteering. Louise Bourgeois’ Art is the Guaranty of Sanity.  In fact, it was a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.


Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 12:01 am  Comments (2)  

A Response to David Rubinstein

Dear Professor Emeritus David Rubinstein,

Earlier today I had the dubious pleasure of reading your post on NPR entitled “Kickin’ Back with Tax Payer Money.” Congratulations, sir, for making a mockery of my profession and yours.  I am so happy for you that you get paid more now in retirement than you did while you were….what, exactly, were you doing, since your grad students were doing your grading, and by your own admission, you certainly weren’t updating your teaching materials? Reading, I suppose? Funny, I can read too. AND grade everything, and respond to students, and update and improve what I teach.

Me, I’m an adjunct. Just got a 10% raise. That means I now make just barely over $2000 a class.  Which means that this coming fall, with my 3 classes, I’ll make $6000. Of course, that money has to last for 6 months, but that’s a small matter, right? Because somewhere down the road, if I’m really, really lucky, I’ll land myself one of those ever-diminishing tenure track jobs, and then I can stop caring if students like me, if the material I’m teaching is actually factual, current, or even relevant to my students’ lives, and I can start not bothering with actually being present, either physically or mentally. Once I jump through that flaming hoop known as actually getting tenure, that is. But that’s easy, right? Just cook up something with ‘Marx’ in the title, and I’m golden. Of course, it’ll help if I actually am a Marxist, disdaining the rich while all the time rubbing my hands with glee at how well I’m fleecing the administration, and, if I’m at a state school, the taxpayers.  When students complain that I’m boring and go off on tangents, that I’m disorganized and unhelpful (all of which was said about you on ratemyprofessor), I can just say ‘tenure!’.  When I don’t actually produce anything after a sabbatical, I’ll just crow ‘tenure’ and go look at my stock portfolio.  Oh yes. I’ll buy a big house, one I can fill with the latest books in my field, none of which I’ll actually read. I’ll get myself a luxury sedan, and put a vanity plate on it…BSTPROF.  Oh yes.

But wait. I’m an adjunct. My classes can go away at any time. I have no health insurance, 2 month spaces between pay periods sometimes, and I qualify for food stamps. The state just cut our budget by nearly 90%, so hiring…well, let’s just say that getting hired at this point is a pipe dream.  A long shot. I’m thinking of applying at Wal Mart.

So here’s my request: since you’re making so much money, more than you need, how about you send me some? We’ll call it a gift. You can help me come up with the three grand I need (if my petition for part time study goes through, mind you) to file my dissertation. it would be greatly appreciated, and I’ll even mention you in my acknowledgements. You’ll be a hero to those of us who have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being where you are, and the handful of people who will ever read my dissertation will know your name. How much more could you ask for?

Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm  Comments (5)  

seeing one’s self in photos

A friend of mine took some pictures of me the other day, and I really had a moment. It wasn’t that they’re bad photos…they’re great. But in them, I see wrinkles I didn’t have, freckles that are turning into age spots, and hair that may (and only may) be turning gray.

Looking at the photos, the person there is much more settled, much more calm and self-assured, than I ever feel on a day to day basis. And a hell of a lot older.

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Game of Thrones & the New York Times: Game Over.

The blogosphere, twitter, and various fantasy fan sites are abuzz with comments regarding today’s New York Times review of HBO’s latest epic series, based on George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones.  And with good reason.  Not only does the reviewer, Ginia Bellafante, seem to have a bit of a problem with fantasy genre in general, she manages to insult her own sex in the process.

First of all, it’s clear she hasn’t actually read the book, as she writes, “embedded in the narrative is a vague global-warming horror story. Rival dynasties vie for control over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros — a territory where summers are measured in years, not months, and where winters can extend for decades.” Uh, no. Winter happens. It’s just that the winter that is threatening is a perma-winter…one wrought by magic, not by some sort of climate change.  Nor is she clear on who these characters are, what their motivation is, or even why, it seems, anyone would be interested.  This is further evinced by the next point she makes, asking why anyone would care about ruling these lands, since “the bizarre climate of the landmass” isn’t worth fighting over, because, apparently, it ain’t Palm Beach.  Guess what? A lot of fantasy takes place in different climates, in worlds that are not our own. And the readers of fantasy, male AND female, like it that way.  According to her, only those “not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic” will like this series. Oh wait, what are those sitting on my table? Are those my funky steampunk gaming dice?! I do believe they are!  But guess what? I only started gaming a couple of months ago…I read the first book years ago.  So much for that theory.

Then she goes on to ask what she considers a very important question:  “What is “Game of Thrones” doing on HBO?”  Well, I don’t know, Ginia.  Perhaps HBO is aware, which you seem not to be, that fantasy (and its subgenres) are big, big business.  Think Steig Larsson sells a lot of books (don’t get me wrong, Lisbet Salander kicks ass and takes names)?  Or that only ‘serious’ literature sells?  Then why is it that people of all ages were up at midnight to buy Harry Potter books?  Why is it that Patrick Rothfuss found himself on top of the sales charts for his latest, or why, when the release date for the next book in the Game of Thrones series (actually called A Song of Fire and Ice, but that’s not the point) was announced, it was the number 2 book on Amazon that day?  Is this because no one reads fantasy? No.  HBO knows how popular this series is, and thought, gosh, we could make some money on that.  That’s why it’s on HBO.  Rome was on HBO, The Tudors was on Showtime, Starz did the blood and guts and sex fest known as Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and then Showtime decided to get on the completely messed up historical figures bus again with The Borgias.  But Ginia doesn’t seem to understand that. Nor does she think women would watch it, save for the bodice-ripping.

But before we delve into the inherent sexism of this review, I have to get through two other egregiously ridiculous points she makes.  First, she states that A Game of Thrones “has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads.”  Hello, Avatar anyone? James Cameron went so far as to publish a book on the language of the Na’vi, and the thing damned near won Best Picture (don’t get me started on how it was just a re-warmed Dances with Smurfs in Fern Gully…).  I applaud the creators for going this extra step.

Now, I suppose we should talk about the violence and sex she mentions in her review. Yep, HBO is known for going a bit over the top with the sex and violence in its mini-series. Rome was one big orgy, and I’m not so sure about the historical accuracy of some of the bedroom scenes in The Tudors.  But Martin’s series itself doesn’t shy away from the sex, or the gore. Like his fellow traveler Joe Abercrombie’s kingdoms of Styria and the Union, Martin’s Westeros isn’t (as noted before) Palm Beach. There are swords, poisons, and all manner of ways to kill, and I’m good with that. Give me gritty any day over ‘surgical strikes’ with drones.  The relationship between Cercei and Jamie Lannister which the reviewer alludes to is meant to tell the reader something: for all their shining beauty and seeming perfection, these Lannisters are downright twisted buggers. And guess what? I’m also okay with that (we’ll get to why that is in a moment).

And this is where we come to the part that makes every single geek girl I know seethe. I am quoting the entire paragraph here, so my readers can see just how inane this argument (which it isn’t…ask my students) really is:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Putting aside the fact that the reviewer doesn’t understand proper citation (The Hobbit and Game of Thrones require italics, but whatever), the sex in Martin’s books isn’t “a little something for the ladies” who wouldn’t otherwise watch.  How incredibly arrogant to say such a thing.  First of all, I didn’t read all three books for the sex, I read ’em for the story. Which is pretty damned good, and tough (as any writer can tell you) to maintain over a series. Second, she blatantly shows her ignorance by saying that somewhere, there must be women in the world who read such books. Guess what, Ginia? I bet you know some. I know more than some…I know a lot of them. In fact, most of the women I know read fantasy (and no, I don’t mean that tripe known as romance novels).  I know people who are writing their dissertations on fantasy literature.  And again, I ask you, how could Martin’s pre-sale orders push him to #2 if there weren’t female readers? How incredibly insulting.  For the record, I had to go look up who Lorrie Moore was.  I have never heard of her, nor do any of her titles look familiar.  If the plot of A Gate at the Stairs is any indiction, I wouldn’t want to be in that book club (seriously…it makes some of Oprah’s Book Club selections look happy).  Oh, and just one final thing…my last book club did read The Hobbit.

But what really bothers me here, besides the poorly constructed argument, is the inherent sexism Ginia displays towards her own sex. Am I supposed to only read stories about girls who want to be nannies? Am I supposed to feel vindicated that she called out the sex and violence, as if that’s something that having breasts inherently cannot comprehend or accept? Is there some sort of vagina-detection device in the sci-fi/fantasy section of Barnes and Noble that is supposed to steer me to ‘acceptable for girls’ section?  When did literature, of whatever sort, become sex-segregated?  Pat Mills, this is Ginia. Ginia, this is Pat Mills.  Now, both of you apologize.  At least Pat Mills has an excuse…he isn’t a woman.  But for a woman to paint all women with such a very broad brush (word for the day: essentialism) is really, in my book, inexcusable. The NY Times should be ashamed of itself for allowing this review to be published.  This review is insulting to fantasy as a genre, the authors who write it (many of whom are…surprise! women), and the readers, but to the quality of the New York Times.

Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 10:32 am  Comments (20)