Friday, October 21, 2011

The Avid Reader for September 2011

It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider by Jim Henson, the Muppets, and Friends

I have always been a Jim Henson and the Muppets fan, and so when I was in the American History Museum and saw the ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ book, I just had to get it. It is a ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ book. It has brief sayings from the Muppets, the Muppeteers, and Jim Henson himself, talking about following dreams and building a group of friends and co-workers to build that dream with. The five areas that the book is broken down into are: ‘Listen to Your Heart’; ‘Dynamite Determination’; ‘Together We’ll Nab’; ‘It Starts When We’re Kids’; and ‘A Part of Everything and Everyone.’ The book’s first quote from Jim pretty much sums up the positive message of the book: “I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism, but it has always worked out for me.”As a Muppet fan and dreamer, I can truly appreciate the message, and am taking a lot of what the book says to heart. I give ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ an A.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9: Millennium: The War of the Prophets by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Often, the middle piece of a trilogy can be the weakest, and I’m afraid that is true in this particular series, too. It had a very powerful beginning, and you’ll see that I felt that the end was quite strong, but the middle section had a few too many coincidences for me. The main characters of DS9 are flung forward through time and meet a very dark future. The Federation has fallen, the Klingons and humans are nearly extinct, the Romulans are essentially slaves trying to get out from under the thumbs of Cardassians. The ‘coincidences’ had more to do with how the DS9 crew got divided up and who went where. The story did have its moments as the Mirror Universe, as well as Time Travel, were brought into the story, just to add to the confusion. Also, have the Wraiths be divided against each other in the forms of Weyoun and Dukat was very interesting. The storyline did hold together pretty well. B.

The Heroic Age
The Heroic Age was my little gift to myself at the end of the summer program. I was really looking forward to getting it. The Heroic Age was an event where they set up the new Avengers teams and characters, essentially creating a nice new starting place for Marvel. It thought that it was going to be its own self contained story, much like Seige and Secret Invasion. I was wrong. It was the first issue of all the new Avengers comics – Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers AcademyHawkeye and Mockingbird, Agents of Atlas, Black Widow, among others. I was very disappointed. I didn’t need the first issue of all those comics. I would have loved to have the compilation and complete plot of any of those comics, but instead I got a tasting of them all, and I didn’t find it satisfying. I give The Heroic Age compilation a D+ because of the lack of complete story. I was very disappointed.

Belgarath the Sorcerer by David Eddings
Belgarath is a 7000 year old sorcerer who was a featured character throughout David Eddings 10 novel series. He was also my favorite character in the whole thing. He was a pragmatist who really didn’t care what anyone else thought, and he was powerful enough to get away with it. This book tells the important pieces of his 7000 or so years of life. It covered his early thieving life, his time as a disciple to Aldur, how he met his wife, how he reacted to her ‘death,’ and what happened when he stole the Orb of Aldur back from the evil god Torak. It filled in a lot of questions, but of course generated more that will be answered in the last book of the series. One important note is that David finally shared credit with his co-writer/wife Leigh in this book. In the forward he said that it was about time since it was the worst kept secret in fantasy writing. I enjoyed the novel, even though it did have several contradictory statements in it, such as finding out about Torak’s three disciples, but in the later series him not knowing about Urvon, one of those three, and how Beldin learned sorcery. Even with its inconsistencies, It is a worthy addition to the Belgariod series. A-.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9: Millennium: book 3: Inferno by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
In the last of the Deep Space 9 books I read, it all got tied together. These books used so much of what made DS9 the best of the Star Trek series: the Bajoran religious story arc, the Wormhole and the Prophets, the Mirror Universe, time travel. I enjoyed the story. They return to the fall of Terok Nor (DS9) and they find out exactly what happened to the Cardassians and, for some of them, to themselves. They also confirm what happened to the other time travelers Picard, Vash, and Nog. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the series. I give it an A-.

King Javan’s Year by Katherine Kurtz
King Javan’s Year is probably my favorite of Kurtz’s Deryini books. It focuses on the most intelligent and most independent of King Cinhil’s children. The regents, who ruled the land with an iron fist, try to bypass Javan and hand the crown over to his more biddable brother Rhys-Michael, but Rhys-Michael himself and some knights loyal to Javan manage to get Javan installed as king, much to the chagrin of the regents. Throughout the book, Javan’s camp and the regents camp maneuver and try to find legal ways to get rid of the other, and both take steps into the darkness to meet their goals. The difference between the two is that Javan and his people feel bad about the cold blooded murder they needed to commit, and the regents don’t. Even though I knew that Javan could not win – the back of all the Deryni books have a family tree of Javan’s Haldane family, and Javan died one year after he ascended the throne – I rooted for him the entire time. Given a little more luck, he could have been an exceptional king for Gwynned, but he and his entire camp was struck down, and the luckless Rhys-Michael ascended the throne. This book always takes me a little longer to re-read because when something is about to go wrong, I have to put it down for a while because I really get into the characters and I feel bad for them. I give King Javan’s Year an A.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Transition to High School

30 years ago, I was going through one of the first major transitions in life. Going from the top of the heap in Middle School to becoming a lowly freshman in High School can be tricky, but for me, it was a good change.

I think the major changes had more to do with me growing up a bit than the actual environment. During eighth grade, I had grown up to almost my full height of 6 foot, and I think that gave me more confidence than anything. For a short while, I was one of the taller kids in school. It gave me a confidence that I had not had before. I was willing to stand up for myself, and I became more out-going.

I was always thankful for that boost in height, and for the friendships I had made with some of the older students. I wasn’t picked on by the upper classmen, and for the most part, my own grade had stopped picking on me as well.

I did try football for all of one day. I discovered something very important about myself that day; I really don’t like being hit. There are times when I think my sense – touch and hearing in particular – are more sensitive than other peoples. The collisions and smashing of football just rattled me so badly, I couldn’t face a second day. I’m generally not a quitter, but I made an exception.

My growth spurt also made me more clumsy; I didn’t know the dimensions of my body. I was always clumsy with my large muscle groups, but this made it worse. I’m still clumsy with those groups, although my fine muscle groups (such as fingers) are very dexterous.

I imagine that it is no surprise to anyone that I became a Fine Arts Geek. I loved drama, choir, band, and orchestra. I went and tried to talk to the art teacher, but I must have caught him on a bad day because he was a bit rude when I tried, and that was an automatic turn off. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, so I did not take any drawing classes at all. So, I was in the performing arts.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the performing arts. My least favorite part was marching band. That may have something to do with my inherent laziness, but I think a definite part of it was the uniform. It was wool with those funky ‘water buffalo’ hats. Also, I was playing the clarinet, so I had to wear white gloves that had the finger tips cut off.

Marching band was an ordeal. The first parade we were in, in rained. Nothing quite like the smell of wet wool. We were soaked all the way through.

I also remember my dismay at some of the football games. It got sooooo cold, and there I am, wearing gloves with the finger tips cut off. The following years for marching band, I played bigger instruments where gloves could be whole. I much preferred marching sousaphone to marching clarinet.

At the first football game, I did learn a very serious lesson about good sportsmanship. I didn’t fully understand that good sportsmanship includes people beyond the teams; it includes the crowd. It’s one that is completely ingrained in me.  I don’t remember who PHS played, but we lost. I was there as part of the band, in uniform, and I remember ‘booing’ as the opposing team was walking off the field. Our choir director, who was there, immediately took steps, telling me – and whoever was with me, I don’t even remember that – that we don’t do that here and to be a gracious winner. I was embarrassed beyond belief. I did immediately put myself in the winning teams shoes, and realized how right he was. They had played a good game. Obviously a better game than we had played, and they deserved respect.

It’s a lesson that I took to heart. Even now, on the rare occasions that I go to a game, I will applaud for the opposing team if they make a good or great play. I never boo, hiss, or any of that sort of thing.

As I look at some of the professional sports, both players and fans, I wonder where their good sportsmanship went. I understand the intensity of the game and the drive of the players, but they should be helping their opponents to their feet when after they tackle or block them. And fans should most certainly not be beating up the visiting fans. They really needed someone they respect to tell them to knock it off and demonstrate good sportsmanship. (Fellow parents, that should be us from a very early age!)