Book Review for: Take Joy

Take Joy

Title: Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide To Loving The Craft
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Non-Fiction, Craft Book on Writing
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (One of my new favorite writing books)
Versions Available: Paperback (New and Used)

 

Accomplished writer Jane Yolen applies the same magic she used to turn her classic picture book, Owl Moon, from a simple story about a child and her father going out to look for owls into a magical poetic journey, and creates a craft book that inspires the reader to see the charm and adventure of writing.

Yolen, a prolific writer of novels, picture books, and essays, sees writing as a joyful activity, rather than the struggle many writing books present it as. While I do at times struggle with my writing, the more I read Yolen’s comforting, optimistic ideas, the more I got excited about my own work.

Yolen’s writing advice is not a Mary Sunshine take on writing, she is well aware that all is not rosy in the writing world, but she also delights in creating stories and worlds. The more I read about her approach to writing, the more I relished my own writing time.

Yolen combines her enchanting slant on writing with an organized, common sense structure. There is a chapter on each aspect of writing. I especially liked the chapters on gathering ideas, researching a topic, choosing a point of view, and dealing with rejection. She combines specific, concrete advice on each of these subjects with her own special blend of inspiration and gave me lots of new ideas on how to approach my own projects.

There’s no eBook version of Take Joy— my favorite way to read books—so I had to order a paperback copy through Amazon.  This made me realize that I expect to receive a book instantly now that eBooks exist.  The added wait was well worth it though. Now I have a paper copy full of penciled underlines to pick up and read anytime I need writing inspiration.

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, by Felicia Day

FD pic

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Memoir
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (I loved this book!)
Versions Available: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover

 

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day since 2008 when I watched her play Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Then someone told me her own Internet show, The Guild, inspired Joss Whedon to make Dr. Horrible, so I watched all six seasons of this fun show on Netflix.

The Guild, written and produced by Felicia Day, is about a group of World of Warcraft-like gamers who end up meeting in person. The group represents the variety of computer gamers that exist—slacker teenagers, bored stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching middle aged men, socially challenged twenty-something guys, and sharp-tongued college  students. It’s available to watch instantly on Netflix.

I’m also a frequent watcher of Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club on YouTube—where she and four friends discuss speculative fiction and historical romance novels that have a feminist bent. Plus, I always watched the two Supernatural episodes she appeared in each season, as quirky computer hacker Charlie, though I stopped watching the show regularly after season six.

Day writes about her unusual childhood being homeschooled in the south– “for hippy, not Jesus reasons”, how she got a full scholarship to study violin and math at the University of Texas at sixteen, how she built her acting career after deciding she didn’t want to be a professional musician, and how she ended up finding a more fulfilling career on the Internet. Her book was utterly charming and inspiring for me as a writer.

Day is very honest about her struggles with perfectionism, procrastination, and her lack of confidence. Her homeschooling childhood is fascinating, but the best parts of the book, for me, were the details of how a writing class, and then a critique group, pressured her into giving up her Internet gaming addiction and take the plunge into writing. Her group then helped her produced her own TV pilot. The details of how The Guild became an Internet success are interesting, funny, messy and so real.

Day follows these exciting chapters with several soul-searching chapters on dealing with the pressures of success in an honest reassuring manner. Success is one of my biggest nightmares and so it was especially comforting to read about Day’s struggles and triumphs dealing with her own demons and health issues. Spoiler alert: She even had her own thyroid health problems!

The last chapter on Gamegate is a good summary of this nightmarish attack on the women on the Internet. Day is honest about how hesitant she was to speak out about these attacks and why. Her story of what happened when she did finally speak out is harrowing but inspiring. Like other women on the Internet, she’s come to terms with how thick-skinned women need be, and has found her own way to be honest and real with the public, while at the same time protecting herself. It’s reassuring, inspiring stuff!

I listened to the audiobook version, that Day herself reads, which is like having your coolest friend tell you all about her Hollywood/ Internet adventures while you do the dishes or clean the house. I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes, likes gaming, enjoys popular culture, or just likes a good memoir.

 

August 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Allergies, The SequelA forty-five year old American woman finds out she’s highly allergic to mold. When a small water leak in one of her bathroom pipes makes all kinds of sporing mold, she discovers mold isn’t one of the allergens she’s getting shots for and her talented DIY husband is working so much this month he can’t tackle the mold until Fall. Since cleaning it herself would send her into torturous allergic fits, she salvages her summer vacation by downing Benadryl, and taking….


The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel
(This tour was made possible by Netflix, Netflix Instant, itunes, and Rowena’s Trusty Laptop)
 

TV Portion of the Tour:

(Cardiff, Wales) Torchwood, series 1 & 2 (****) – Captain Jack Harkness protects the world from alien invasion by leading Torchwood Division–an independent agency located in Cardiff, Wales on a rift between time and space. Part police procedural, part sci-fi adventure, part character exploration, Torchwood became one of my favorite shows because it has a little bit of everything: dark edgy action, fun dialog, a little romance, and a bit of camp.

The characters are talented, devoted, and deeply flawed. Nobody’s all good or all bad, just very human. Women and men are equally the heroes and the ones in need of saving. Everyone’s sexuality is pretty fluid and sex is treated both more casually, and yet, more respectfully than it’s usually shown on American TV.

The main characters are pretty, but in a realistic way, not the glossy American way. Policewoman Gwen Cooper begins investigating Torchwood after she witnesses their strange actions at the scene of a murder investigation. She’s quite attractive and just happens to also have a gap in her teeth.

The best thing about the show is that the equal treatment of sexuality and people is never the point; it’s just how things are. This is no public service announcement or after school special; it’s a sci-fi action adventure show full of dark, fun escapism.

The beginning of the series is a bit shaky and a couple episodes are pretty awful *cough* Cyber Woman *cough*. Even they have their charms though since they come early in the series when the viewer is getting to know the characters. While this is a spin-off from Dr. Who, you don’t to need watch Doctor Who to understand it. [Watched on itunes, also available on Netflix]

(Cardiff/London) Torchwood: Children of Earth (*****) – This is one roller coaster of a ride! Instead of individual episodes like season 1 & 2, this Torchwood series is one five-episode mini series. Though less campy, there is still a good mix of fun and darkness within the same egalitarian world. This time aliens are speaking through children and things get tense, dark, dark, dark, and definitely worth watching. [Saw on itunes, also available on DVD through Netflix.]

(The UK and Beyond) Doctor Who, series 4 (*** 1/2 ) – Donna Noble turned out to be an excellent companion. [Saw on DVD through Netflix]

(The Whole World) Michael Palin’s 80 Days Around the World (*** 1/2) – In this 1988 travel series, former Monty Python member Michael Palin tries to travel around the world in 80 days using only the transportation available to Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. Palin makes a smart, funny, and likable guide. Though it’s 20 years old, it’s interesting to watch Palin visit India and China right before their dramatic changes. His brief adventures in the US didn’t seem that different from today. The best sequences though were his 8 days on a Dhow (a tiny open cargo boat) crossing the Arabian Sea from Dubai to Bombay with an all Indian crew who spoke little English.

(Manhattan in the early 60’s) Mad Men, current season 3 (****) – AMC’s evocative drama about a Manhattan Ad Agency in the early 1960’s is one of my favorite shows. Season 3 starts off in the summer of 1963 after the Brits have taken over Sterling Cooper.

August 2009: In Brief, Part 3

The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel – The Movie Portion

(Sweden) Slim Susie (*** 1/2) – Erik comes back to the rural Swedish town where he grew up in search of of his missing younger sister Susie. He meets up with a cast of eccentric characters and the tale of Susie becomes increasingly more tangled and dark. No one should be likable in this movie but for some reason they are. It’s the blackest of comedies but quite a fun movie if you like your comedy dark. It’s also interesting to see how much influence American movies have on the Swedes, as the movie borrows from and references American movies from Pulp Fiction to Star Wars and beyond. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]

(Norway) Buddy (***) – A simple romantic comedy about a twenty-four year old billboard hanger whose girlfriend just broke up with him. When his video lands in the hands of a reality show producer, his reality show star life becomes more complicated with his housemates than he imagined.

There’s nothing really special about this plot but it’s a fun way for an American viewer to get a sense of twenty-something life in Norway– both the similarities and the differences. My favorite bit of trivia? Hearing the English phrases that would pop up in their Norwegian conversations, like "okay" and "I’m sorry". I realized "okay" has become pretty international, but I had no idea the phrase "I’m sorry" was used anywhere but English speaking countries. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(Italy/ Greece) Ginger & Cinnamon (***) – A fifteen-year-old Italian girl decides it’s time she lose her virginity and see the world. So she runs away from her school field trip and convinces her 30-year-old Aunt to take her on a trip to Greece instead. The Aunt, recovering from a painful recent breakup, relunctantly agrees. Neither aunt nor niece really fits into the party-like international twenty-some island experience. The niece is a bit too young and the aunt, who acts likes she’s already 50, is a bit too old. But both come to understand themselves better and figure out why their current lives aren’t working for them.

While I ended up liking this movie, the aunt and the niece did drive me crazy at times. Both main characters talked non-stop and seemed to lack any self-awareness at the beginning of the film. But their relationship was kind of sweet and the Greek island scene was interesting. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(NYC) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (****) – Two seventeen-years-olds, each nursing broken hearts, meet at a Lower East Side club and are drafted by their friends to turn their encounter into a nightlong first date. This is one of my favorite books so I was pleasantly surprised how well the movie captured the book’s spirit.

It’s true that Michael Cera isn’t the actor I imagined for Nick and Cera plays basically the same character he’s played in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Juno. Still, it’s a likable character and it works for NIck. Also, Nick’s ex-girlfriend Tris is more nuanced and realistic in the book, while in the movie she’s a cliched mean girl. Kat Dennings is absolutely perfect as Norah though and the movie offers a fun adventure with lots of music and a bit of physical comedy. The language and sexual content is much cleaner and family friendly in the movie, though there is a brief sex scene that we only hear, not see. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]


(Kingdom of Andalasia/ NYC)
Enchanted (*** 1/2) – They day before Princess Giselle’s wedding–in the cartoon Kingdom of Andalasia–wicked Queen Narissa banishes the princess down a well that just happens to lead straight to Manhattan. I started this movie with low expectations as I’m not terribly fond of princess movies, Disney, or Patrick Demspy. I was pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it was to watch though. Somehow this movie manages to pay homage to the Disney princess movies while gently mocking them and tells a story that kids will enjoy while entertaining adults. Patrick Dempsey is likable and Amy Adams is spot-on as Princess Giselle. A fun movie for mixed-aged audiences. [Watched on DVD]

(Germany) Hilfe (*** 1/2) – This could have been just a German version of those Freaky Friday body-switching type movies. The nuanced characters and respectful tone make this movie deeper and more enchanting than the usual glossy Disney-like story though. (Parent Note: While this movie is made to be suitable for kids, there is more cursing and mild sexual innuendo in this movie than some American family movies.) [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

June 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, (***1/2) – Gladwell’s books are like chatting with some entertaining professor in a bar.  They’re quick reads, each on a different fascinating topic.  This time the topic is what makes someone an outlier (a stand-out) in their field.  The answer contains both expected and surprising elements.

TV– Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
Buffy: seasons 2,3 (*****) – I watched in French and Spanish without subtitles this time. Plenty of action and playful dialog makes rewatching Buffy in French and Spanish interesting.  Sometimes the dialog is translated literally, sometimes figuratively, and sometimes they just rewrite it to something bland but more straightforward.

Doctor Who: series 1 (***) – Review coming in my July Inbrief

Firefly (*****) – I watched in Spanish without subtitles.  Like Buffy, Firefly has plenty of action and clever dialog that makes it fun for rewatching in Spanish (or French).

Pushing Daisies (***1/2) – I’m glad they aired the last 3 episodes and wrapped up the plot in a satisfying way.

Slings & Arrows: season 1,2,3 (****) – If you love theater, check out this Canadian comedy on DVD starring Paul Gross (formerly in Due South and currently in Eastwick).  After their artistic director dies, the New Brubbage Theater asks Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) to come back and help the theater recover.  Geoffrey left six years ago when he had a nervous breakdown in the middle of Hamlet and isn’t sure he can keep his sanity working there again.  This show is funny, inspiring, and chock full of quirky actors, Shakespearean scenes, and wonderful behind the scenes theater moments.  Each 6-episode season focuses on one main play: one season it’s Hamlet, of course, season two is MacBeth, and season three they do King Lear.