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The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

In keeping with some of the themes from last week, I decided to share this with you. This infographic comes from the amazing people over at goodreads. Here’s there “What’s Your Love Story?” flowchart. Find the original here.

Pretty damn thorough...

Pretty damn thorough…

This week’s Trifextra Challenge gave us this photo. We were told to write 33 words inspired by the image. My piece, The Café, can be read below. It’s flash fiction from photography, for those of you who love alliteration as much as I do.

Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo by Thomas Leuthard. Found here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/5678203035/

“The Café”

Evie could be found at her favorite café table with a stack of books every day at three.

Every day at three, Marcia walked past the café, gazing longingly at the reading girl.

This week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge gave us the “quaint” as our required word. Here’s my 333-word microfiction response.

“Quaint”

“I came here once, at least once, when I was a kid. Maybe more. My parents brought me here, but I don’t really remember the details of it. Regardless, I know that I love the atmosphere here more than pretty much any other bookstore we’ve ever gone to.”

“I like it,” Jason replied. “It’s quaint. In a good way, I mean,” he added, catching the frown that crossed my face. “Not weird, just, I guess, old fashioned.”

I waved my hand at the uneven shelves stacked with worn volumes and well-loved tomes. “That’s the best part! You don’t find classic indie bookstores anymore. I mean, the chains wiped out the little guys, and then Amazon came along and did the same thing to them. These guys have been around for almost forty years, and they’re still going strong.”

“And that’s impressive as hell, really. I love that they have the whole retro thing going for them, though I suspect that’s not entirely intentional. It’s a really cool store, but it just doesn’t have the same impact for me.”

“I guess not,” I sighed, pulling a copy of Swords Against Death from the shelf. “I liked this one. Too bad they don’t have the first of these in stock. Lieber’s characters are some of my favorite.”

“That’s the Gray Mouser guy, right? The one you based your old rogue on?”

“Yup. I used to get a lot of inspiration for D&D characters from this guy’s books. Guess my love for old sci-fi and fantasy is another one of those ‘quaint’ things about me.”

“And I love it,” Jason laughed. “Come on, then. This place is perfect for you. Why don’t you show me the rest of the store?”

I slipped the book back into place, carefully shifting those on either side of it. “Okay, but first you owe me a coffee.”

“Deal,” he said, pulling me away from the shelf. “And maybe I’ll even buy you a book after that.”

“Sounds like a deal.”

Just thought I’d share this little beauty from Daily Infographic. The original can be found here.

2013 has been a pretty amazing year. I got to continue to work at two jobs that I love. I got to meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson, William Shatner, and Neil Gaiman. I saw RUSH in concert for the first (and hopefully not last) time. I made a lot of awesome new friends at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, and got to spend time with a lot of my old ones. I got to take my cosplaying in bold new directions. I celebrated the birth of my first nephew.

Looking back over my preview for the year, I’m seeing a lot of great things that I got through. I read Halo: Silentium (and played through Halo 4 with my good friend Hugh), and Dr. Sleep. I caught Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, and Star Trek: Into Darkness in the theatre, and caught up on a lot of other films once they hit DVD. I powered through the new season of Arrested Development and devoured the first season and a half (thus far) of American Horror Story, plus wrapped up the final season of Futurama.

There have been some rough patches this year. I’m not going to pretend that, as Vonnegut so wonderfully said, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” It’s not true. I lost one of my oldest friends a few months ago. Lots of people are moving on to do other things with their lives, and I have felt at many times that I am being left behind. I didn’t do a great number of the things that I set out to do at the beginning of this year. However, despite all of these things, I’ve found that the good manages to once again outweigh the bad. I can honestly say now that I believe that 2014 will be even better. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks as always for reading.

Required reading. It’s a phrase that strikes fear in the hearts of lesser men and women. Despite the delays that my undergraduate career caused for my reading list, I encountered some of my favorite works of literature during those years. I had numerous lists of required material for my classes in college, and I can honestly say that my tastes have changed for the better because of it.

Some of my favorite pieces of required reading from my college courses are listed here.

Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney). My medieval literature professor had us read this one. I knew the story prior to taking the course, but I’d never read Heaney’s translation. Heaney maintains the verse form of the original text, but makes the legendary tale accessible to modern readers. Follow the adventures of Beowulf, mighty warrior, as he does battle with monsters and becomes a king. Side note: kennings are awesome.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel’s art recreates memories of her childhood in the family-run funeral home. Along the way, she reflects on her coming out as a lesbian and explores her recently-deceased father’s reasons for hiding his own homosexuality from his family. This graphic novel and its follow-up, Are You My Mother? are fantastic. Solid writing, honest prose, and intricate drawing make Bechdel’s works must-reads. My many thanks to my American Literature professor for introducing me to her writing.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. This was one I’d read a couple of times since first encountering it in audio book format on a family camping trip as a kid. When I learned that it was on the list for a sociology class I was taking, I wanted to thank the professor for picking something that so beautifully described a small, isolated community. Jonas’ selection as his village’s new Receiver of Memory is the first step in his realization that life in his home is not as ideal as he believes.

That’s it for now, folks, but I may make another post or two along these lines. Remember, literacy is our friend, even if it’s forced on us.

It’s almost the end of September, and another favorite time of year is here. This year, Banned Books Week runs from the 22nd to the 28th. For you uninitiated out there, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. You see, some people in the world are so terrified of knowledge that they actively seek to hide information from other people. In some unfortunate cases, this results in people attempting to remove a book from public access. In response to this behavior, the American Library Association started Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of free and open access to information.

I’m not going to mince words. I fucking hate people who push for the banning of books. It is the one thing that gets me upset more than anything else. It is an act of supreme ignorance to ban a book. No one should be able to tell someone else that they can’t read something. Period. In fact, I’m rather stubborn about it. If you tell me that I shouldn’t read something, I’ll ask you why. If you tell me I CAN’T read something, I’m going to find a way to read it.

So, why do people ban books? Most challenges to books occur in schools. This frequently has to do with a book that a class has been assigned to read having some content in it that a parent or guardian of one of the readers finds offensive. Case in point: Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a frequently challenged title. This is usually more because it includes a description of a girl having her first period than because it is about said girl’s questioning of the existence of a deity. Yeah, that’s right, kids. Talking about the changes that EVERY HUMAN BEING goes through are apparently reason enough to stop someone from reading a book. HOW DARE YOU CHILDREN ATTEMPT TO LEARN WHAT YOUR BODY IS DOING!

But yeah, “sexually explicit” and “unsuited to age group” are the two biggest reasons cited when someone challenges a book’s presence in a library. That’s because both of these terms are open to a very loose interpretation. If a parent feels that their precious little snowflake of a child isn’t ready to read about something that everyone else in their class at school has been talking about, then BAN THAT BOOK. Guess what, folks? Mitch Hedberg said it best. “Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!” Look, if you’re concerned about what your kid might learn from a book, talk to your kid about the topic. It’s called parenting. The librarians aren’t there to do it for you. They’re there to provide information to their patrons, not to keep them from accessing it.

Why should I care? Orwell left us this gem in 1984. The oppressive regime in control of England in the book uses several slogans, including  WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. It’s quite telling, and a bit terrifying, that 1984 has itself been challenged. We’re living in a world where our ability to access information is greater than ever. Thanks to the internet, we have an unbelievable amount of data that we can use every day, WHENEVER WE WANT. However, there are people who want to limit this sort of access to those things that they feel are appropriate for us to see. Sound familiar? People who want to ban books are proponents of ignorance. Fight them. Peacefully.

What can I do to help? Learn your library’s policy on reacting to book challenges. If someone says that they want to complain about a book, ask them if they’ve read it (Yes, this is a legitimate issue—most of the people I’ve met who complained to me about Harry Potter, for example, had NEVER ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK). Many complaints are based purely on hearsay. I like to think of this as the “Cycle of Stupidity.” Some day I’ll draw you a nifty illustration as an example of the cycle. For now, let it be known that only you have the power to stop stupid people. Fight the spread of ignorance. Embrace literacy. Read a banned book. Judy Blume has a great strategy for getting a kid to read. “The best thing to do is leave the books around the house and from time to time say, ‘I really don’t think you’re ready for that book.'”

Other people can stand where they like on the issue of reading freedom, but me? I’m with the banned.

I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s first novel for young adults, Under the Empyrean Sky. As a fan of Chuck’s blog over at Terrible Minds, I felt I owed it to myself to give one of his full-length books a read, and I’m damn glad that I did.

Under the Empyrean Sky introduces us to our intrepid young hero, Cael McAvoy, captain of a teenage scavenger crew in the Heartland. Cael and his friends sail a land boat across the seemingly endless fields of corn to salvage anything they might be able to sell in their home town of Boxelder, because any extra money they can bring in helps provide for their families.

See, only one thing grows in the Heartland. The Empyrean makes sure of it. Hiram’s Golden Prolific is a modified strain of corn that spreads anywhere it pleases, choking out any other potentially competitive life (and it’s not fond of people walking near it, either). It’s the only seed that the Empyrean distributes to the farmers in the Heartland, and the returns for working for the Empyrean machine are enough to barely survive.

So Cael McAvoy scavenges, but he and his friends are not the only crew at work. The mayor’s son has a crew, number one in salvage recovery in Boxelder, and Boyland Barnes Jr. brings daddy’s money to the fight to ensure that Cael’s crew remains in second place. With tensions running high as the Harvest Home festival approaches, Cael takes his ship out for a prime target, only to be shipwrecked in the corn by Boyland Jr. It’s then that he finds something out in the middle of the field, something no one in the Heartland could have predicted. Vegetables. Fruits. Things that have no right growing in the midst of Hiram’s Golden Prolific. The discovery could make them all rich enough to buy passage to one of the flotillas, massive hovering cities of the Empyrean, where the wealthy live in splendor floating over the Heartland like Cael’s boat over the corn. Or it could get them and everyone they’ve ever loved killed.

Wendig packs one hell of a punch into the pages of this book. Deep characters and rich world building blend seamlessly with gritty violence and some of the most honest dialogue to hit the pages of a young adult novel. While some things might come across as a bit heavy-handed (like Empyrean agent Simone Agrasanto‘s name), most of the novel is quick and sharp, like the leaves of the plant that lends its name to Wendig’s self-dubbed “cornpunk” genre. Under the Empyrean Sky weaves teenage love, sex, violence, and intrigue into a wild land boat ride that will leave you counting the days until the release of volume two.

Okay. I know that it’s been a busy summer. There have been a lot of things that I’ve been meaning to get done that haven’t been happening, at least just yet. Reviews I’ve wanted to write, books I’ve wanted to read, etc. I’ve been stretching myself a bit thin, and I’m starting to feel it. Still, if college taught me anything, it’s that I function very well when that last-minute-panic-feeling hits. I’ve decided that I need to do a bit of reorganizing in my life.

Right now, it’s just turned into August (Happy Birthday, Colorado!). That means that the Renaissance Festival is coming to an end, and my girlfriend will have a little bit of time for a social life before the school year starts up again (she wants to be a teacher, and I’m a little jealous of the fact that she will continue to have summer breaks for the rest of her career, not going to lie). I’m personally hoping she gets to write a little bit, but we’ve got a joint project coming up that’s going to take a lot of time. See, we’re both making our own costumes for our cosplays for NDK this year, and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m pretty new to the sewing machine, and I’m very serious about making my costume myself, though I’m also very willing to accept any and all help. We have some absolutely amazing friends who are already doing more than they should to help with this. Now I’m not saying what the cosplay is, not just yet. I know many of my readers already know, but those of you who don’t get to be surprised. So, shhhh. It involves a haircut. That’s the only hint you get.

Cosplay stuff aside, I still have a lot of things to get done. There’s some job opportunities that I’m likely to be applying for, as having a single full-time job would be a lot easier to manage than the two part-time things I’m doing now. A set schedule would also allow me to better handle a daily writing schedule, particularly useful since November is coming. I’m still working on a purge of my book collection. I was able to unload some of my duplicate titles onto V, which was a great help to me. Now I just need one more bookshelf, and I might be able to have space for everything that’s in my apartment at the moment. Just one more. Then I can get more books, and the cycle can begin again. Book addiction, folks. It’s a serious issue.

Also up this week is the accomplishment of a life goal. Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Denver to see my all-time favorite band live for the first time. Rush is coming to town, and I am not about to miss it. I’m going to listen to Moving Pictures again this morning, and probably work my way through as much of the discography as I can before I fall asleep tonight. In the meantime, I’ve got to go to work. The patrons at the library need me.