Lola and The Boy Next Door and Once Upon a Time

TV Quote (from the Big Bang Theory):
Mary Cooper: You have any idea what's going on with those two? (Asking about Sheldon and Amy)

Leonard: It's kind of like the Loch Ness monster, maybe there's something there, maybe there isn't.  We'll probably never know.

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Year Published: 2011
Rating: *** 1/2
Ages: YA chick-lit for ages 14 and up
Format:  Read this YA novel n eBook form on Nook for Droid

Seventeen-year-old Lola Nolan wishes for three things.  She wants to go to her winter homecoming dance in an awesomely complicated  Marie Antoinette dress–that she plans on designing and making herself– with platform combat boots underneath, she wants her parents to like her boyfriend–even if he is 22-years old and plays in a rock band — and she wants to never see her former neighbors again. When her former neighbors move back next door, Lola finds out that what she thought happened the night her feelings were crushed is very different from what actually  happened. This revelation means Lola has some difficult choices to make. 

Stephanie Perkins is the same author who wrote Anna and the French Kiss.  The two books share the same charming tone and joyful optimism about life.  They also both take place in interesting cities that Perkins uses as almost another character in the book.  This time the story takes place in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco. Lola's situation is a bit more difficult than Anna's and Perkins does a good job of showing all the emotions and complications involved in choosing between two loves.  Anna and St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss appear in this story as secondary characters.  It's fun to get a peak into how their lives are progressing.

Parent Note:  The character does have sex, but the scenes are brief and few, and are part of Lola's growth process as she sorts out who she wants to date and why. 

There's also a scene where Lola's parents tell her they don't want her to have sex in their house ever, even if she's with married and with her husband.  This attitude seems to view sex as something that sullies women, but not men, and also seems to imply a parent's wish to have their daughter never grow up.  I realize it's common view in the US, but it strikes me as harmfully sexist, kind of creepy, and a viewpoint that gives young women an unfortunate mixed message about being able to be married or in a relationship and still be viewed as a good person by their own family.

Once Upon A Time (*** 1/2) –  On her 28th birthday, Emma Swan, a lonely orphan and a bad-ass bounty hunter, is visited by the 10-year-old son she gave up for adoption.  He wants her to come back to his town, where he insists everyone is really a fairytale character being forced to live her in the modern world because of a curse put on them by the wicked witch.  The story of Emma's true parents and the fairytale world is told in flashback scenes throughout the story.  I didn't quite understand how the curse worked exactly but the concept is intriguing enough that I'll keep watching for now.

Suite Scarlett, Movits!, and My Dad

TV Quote:
"I never understood that relationship.  It was like oil and …  a Martian." Seymour Birkhoff on Nikita

Title: Suite Scarlett
Author: Maureen Johnson
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Ages: Clean cut YA chick lit for ages 13 and up
Format: Read this YA novel in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Suite Scarlett is a fun YA chick-lit novel about a 15-year-old girl whose family owns a struggling historical inn in New York City.  Each of the Martin children are given full responsibility for one of the suites in the inn on their 15th birthday,  Just days after Scarlett' Martin's 15th birthday, the dramatically quirky Mrs. Amberson moves into her suite for the summer. It's also the summer her older brother gets a part in an off-off-off Broadway Shakespearean play with a cute acting partner who seems to like Scarlett, and the summer Scarlett realizes just how bad the family's financial problems have become.  The novel is a fun mix of quirky characters, family issues, teen romance, and the struggling New York theater scene.

My Dad and The Art of Persuasion
My dad is one of these perpetually positive people with more energy than I can fathom.  When I was a kid he would coax me into doing things I had no interest in: like hiking for 8 hours or visiting 5 museums in one day.

My allergies have been bad this past week, so when I felt way too tired to go on my Tuesday bike ride, a little voice in the back of my brain– that sounded a lot like my dad — whispered to me: "You don't have to go on a bike ride, but why don't you just get dressed?"  

I got dressed and the little voice said, "Well, now that you're dressed, maybe you should go on a walk.  You certainly don't have to go on a bike ride, it's just a walk. Why don't you get ready?"

So I got ready and then heard, "Well, now that you're all ready, you might as well go on a bike ride.  Don't you think?"  😉 

Yep, that's pretty much how my whole childhood went.  This past week I went on 2 bike rides, did my writing, and cleaned the house all by coaxing myself step-by-step. I guess I should thank my dad.

Movits! Äppelknyckarjazz [2009] (***), Out of My Head [2011] (***) – The daughterling told me about this fun Swedish group.  They sing energetic swing Jazz/ hip-hop stuff.  It's all mostly in Swedish but it's infectious and fun to listen to.  Favorite songs: Sammy Davis Jr.. Fel Dev Av Gården

I've crossed off a lot of new shows off my watching list.  My favorite new shows to make the cut are Revenge and Up All Night.  I'm also still watching Ringer, Pan Am, and 2 Broke Girls, hoping they'll grow into good shows eventually.

Review for the book: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

TV Quote (from Parks and Recreation):
Tom: You gotta throw some cold water on this situation.  Start talking about nerd stuff.
Ben: You know, nerd culture is mainstream now, so when you use the word "nerd" derogatorily, it means you're the one that's out of the zeitgeist.
Tom: Yeah, that's perfect.

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It
Author: Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Format: Read this adult non-fiction book in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Neurologist Lise Eliot carefully goes through the research on gender differences and explains what the results actually say. She then explains how the media and gender experts, like Michael Gurian, Louann Brizendine, and Simon Baron-Cohen, have interpreted these same studies.  Her conclusion?

"As a neurobiologist, I had high hopes for understanding sex differences by studying the brain.  Unfortunately, the data just do not add up to anything like the headlines that regularly crop up in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and various parenting magazines." 

  Eliot found that there are small differences between girls and boys at birth, but as children develop, the largest differences seem to be environmental. She found that many gender experts: misread studies, ignore when studies are proven flawed by the scientific community, and ignore the extensive body of research showing how environment is a large factor in gender differences. These gender experts also ignore the research that shows just how strongly stereotyping affects behavior and expectations.

This is a dense, methodical book.  Eliot goes though each stereotype touted by gender experts, examines all the biological differences that would affect each behavior, and then combs though the research and explains what it actually says and how that compares to what the gender experts say about it.  She methodically goes through gender research in infancy, preschool, reading lessons, math and science class, and teens' emotional development.

Her overview on the now debunked research about women's verbal advantage is interesting. She walks the reader though the famous Shaywitzes' study that gender experts taut as proof of women's verbal advantage.  She, then, goes through the many research articles that pointed out flaws in the Shaywitzes' study, like they didn't account for the fact that the women in the study were more educated than the men,  or the fact that no other study has been able to replicate their results.  Eliot also reviews the dozens of other studies on verbal ability and shows how the findings as to which gender has the verbal advantage is all across the board, depending on how the study is set up. Eliot points out that medical texts no longer use the Shaywitzes' study because of it flaws, though gender experts continue to use this study as proof of women's superior verbal skills.  In fact, you probably have read a current article using the study as proof of women's verbal advantage in a popular newspaper and magazine, with no mention that it's been debunked.

Her section on emotional development was equally interesting.  She reviews the body of work on adolescents and hormones and finds that hormones have not been shown to cause the emotional divide for men's reputation as stoic or women's higher depression level.  In fact, there are numerous studies that show boys and men are just as emotional as girls and women.  The difference, many studies conclude, is that boys and men are taught to repress their emotions and girls and women are not.  Eliot points out that this socialization causes men a lot of problems with their social relationships and gives women a disadvantage in their working life.  As she notes, boys would benefit from being taught to handle their emotions better in personal relationships and girls would benefit from learning to repress their emotions more in their professional life.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the section on math and science. Eliot describes some fascinating studies on how stereotypes affect outcomes in math.  In the study, girls were randomly divided into groups to take a math test.  Before the test each girl was given reading material.  The group given material that said that girls had poor math skills, because of gender differences, did the worst on the math test.  The group given material to remind them they were a girl (a paragraph  about paintings and the arts) scored in the middle, and the girls that were given a paragraph about how research found girls were actually good at math did the best on the math test.

These stereotyping studies have been done in a number of areas.  For instance, white boys who read a paragraph about the superior athletic skills of African-American boys did worse on a strength tests than boys who read a neutral paragraph first.  White boys who read a paragraph about the superior math skills of Asians did worse on their math test than boys who read a neutral paragraph. Eliot then wonders what we are doing to boys when we go on and on about how boys can't read or write as well as girls. 

The moral of the story:  Stereotyping hurts everyone and we have the research to prove it.

Wyclef Jean, Problem Solving, and Escapist TV

Quote of the Week (From The Good Wife)
Will: "But let's not expose ourselves on a subway platform unless we have to."
Diane: "Oh, what a colorful and pointless metaphor."

Wyclef Jean, The Carnival Volume II (Memoirs of an Immigrant) [2007] (***); Greatest Hits [2003] (***) –  Wyclef Jean sings hip-hop with a healthy dose of social commentary and island flavor, and without the angry sexism that plagues a lot of hip-hop.  My favorite Wyclef Jean song, hands down, is "Fast Car" featuring Paul Simon.  If you liked Paul Simon's Graceland Album, definitely check out the song, "Fast Car". It's the perfect combination of hip-hop, island sound, catchy chorus, and social commentary. 

The Joy of Problem Solving:
Last week our weather turned so tropical I began to wonder if I'd moved to Florida and just forgot to mention it to myself. One evening when I was walking into town, I looked up the weather on my phone. It wasn't raining but the humidity was 94%!
The tropical weather brought my arch-nemesis pollen with it, and I once again battled with sinus issues.  To make things more fun, I also have a new kidney stone. Despite my health issues I had a mostly productive week.  What changed?

Problem solving is the savior I'd been waiting for.  My greatest comfort comes from imagining myself in a lab coat with Tina Fey glasses holding a clipboard and going over the facts and data about my situation.

The more facts I know about allergies and kidney stones, the better I can fight them.  The more data I take on my problems, the more I can problem solve and figure out what makes my conditions worse and what makes them better.   I note what I eat, what medications or home remedies I try, and what the result of each of the actions is.

It works too!  I had mild discomfort all week, yet I was able to keep the pain manageable enough to write, bike, cook, and even have some fun.

Yay problem solving!  You rock.

PS- So far, this week the weather is thankfully cool and fall-like.

Nikita (*** 1/2) –  I'm enjoying the second season of Nikita.  No, it's not a great show by any standard, but it is a fun show, with just the escapist qualities I enjoy in my TV watching.  There are plenty of pretty men and women kicking ass because of their dedicated training and expert skills.  Plus, the actors look like they have a lot of fun with their characters and just when I'm getting bored of the overall plot, the writers do something unexpected to surprise me.

Pam Am (***) – I've seen two episodes of Pam AM now and am still only mildly interested in it.  The sets and costumes are striking and I like all the characters but the stories haven't really grabbed me so far.

Terra Nova (** 1/2) – I was looking forward to this futuristic sci-fi adventure about people traveling back in time to an undamaged earth with dinosaurs.   It  has great sets and special-effects. I'd expect nothing less given its 20 million dollar budget. Unfortunately, what is doesn't have is a well-developed storyworld or good writing.  The characters are all lazy Hollywood stereotypes, their futuristic world doesn't make a lot of sense, and the plot is trite and predictable.  How disappointing! That was an easy one to cross of my list.