I had a lot of fun last Summer working with youth librarian Adrienne Butler on October’s Teen Read Month. The theme was “Read Beyond Reality.” The focus of the project was speculative fiction, everything from hard sci-fi to wispy fantasies.
One of our lesson plans for the project was on the big “What-if” of science fiction, and it challenged young people to come up with their own “what-if” scenarios that could form the basis of a story. You know, things like, “what if we were visited by aliens,” and “what if humans began to develop telepathic abilities,” and “what if the machines really did take over?”
The possibilities are endless, really, and it’s one reason why science fiction is such a rich genre. Of course, the best sci-fi, like the best of all fiction, isn’t just about the idea; it’s about the characters and how they react in their environment.
The big idea in Nancy Kress‘s new novel, Steal Across the Sky, is really big. Aliens do come, and they tell us that ten thousand years ago they committed a crime against humanity. The aliens wish to atone for this crime, and they select a group of people to travel to other human-inhabited planets in order to discover for themselves the nature of this wrongdoing. The aliens can’t just tell us, we have to see it for ourselves. The aliens need witnesses to their crime. Humanity needs to hear the devastating news from their own kind. (But you won’t hear it from me; I’m not going to tell you what the crime was. And stay away from reviews that purport to keep you spoil-free while revealing too much.)
I fully expected the novel to revolve around the revelation of this crime, and that the main characters—young, emotional Cam; grieving scientist Lucca; and cautious, responsible Soledad— wouldn’t discover the truth until the next to last chapter. But Kress throws us a curve ball. The actual crime is discovered less than half way through the book, and the remainder of the novel deals with the impact of the truth on the sentient inhabitants of Planet Earth, and, ultimately, deals with the act of atonement by the aliens.
A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”
And so, following the revelation, we see the emergence of a deadly cult; the celebrity of witness Cam; the targeting of the witnesses by extremists; the romantic thawing of Soledad; the isolation of rational Lucca; and the imperturbability of humanity as it goes on about the business of life of death, despite the startling revelation about our true nature. For some readers, the last part of the book won’t be able to live up to the first part; for others, the subsequent chapters give the book its heart and soul.
Never read sci-fi? “What-if” you try it?
Once upon a time, there was a gay teenager in America who would not share his “secret” with anyone; not his teachers, not his friends, not his siblings, and (God forbid!) certainly not his parents. Instead, he kept this part of his identity completely to himself, waiting for the day when he met like-minded individuals, when he could finally and openly share and discuss his unique nature in this world.
Even when he was a child, before he knew he was gay, there were other boys in school who saw he was different, and they called him names and bullied him. But he hung on, because he had a loving family, because he had good friends, because he was curious, because he could read, and because he did read. His father had a collection of books and magazines about science and the natural world. His mother signed him up for a children’s book club and read to him. His sister introduced him to the world of comic books and short stories. When he became a teenager, he went to the library and investigated many things, including a natural phenomenon known as “homosexuality.”
Eventually, he grew to adulthood and finally did meet those like minded individuals. He discovered he was not alone (he always knew this) and that most people, whether straight or gay, were loving and accepting, and ready to welcome him. And he lived happily ever after.
This is not a fairy tale. (Pun most definitely intended.) It’s real, and I lived it. And it’s a story that goes on even today in our country. It’s encouraging that society is increasingly becoming more knowledgeable and understanding of human sexuality, and I know it must be much easier for many young gay teenagers today. But I also know that there is a darker story that continues to play out across the states; one where rejection by loved ones, ostracization, isolation, and hateful speech from the pulpit and the political arena can lead young people to very different ends: depression, drug and alcohol abuse, risky behavior, and even suicide.
We know that reading entertains. It educates, it inspires, and sometimes it is a literal lifeline. How many of us turn to books, be they spiritual or secular, for solace and assistance when times are tough? The intellectual pursuit of knowledge and understanding helps. Books help. I remember how popular The Lord is my Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay, by Reverend Troy G. Perry, was with some of my crowd. It helped these people bridge the gap between their religious upbringing and the truth of their nature.
Today’s gay teenagers have a wealth of literary lifelines to explore and to help them find their place in the world. The Today Show’s website has an excellent article: Teen books with gay themes take off. The article includes a quote from a 15-year-old teen that makes me burst with joy:
“I see the characters trickling into the mainstream genres. I really like that,” Brent said. “It makes being gay feel natural, which it is, of course. Books give you hope.”
Books give you hope. It sounds like a marketing slogan for the publishing industry, yet we know it to be profound and true.
It’s Gay Pride Week in OKC. The gay pride events across the nation have always been about hope: hope that the world will change and the LGBT community will soon enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other citizens. Today, gay Americans are discovering this hope at a much earlier age.
OK, you need to see the Apple iPad commercial first to fully appreciate how kewl the second video is! Enjoy your Library YouTube Break. It’s hot out there!
The organization was started fifty-five years ago by two couples whose wives had been in a daytime writing group, but wanted men to be able to attend as well. Several of the current 105 members are long-time members. Peggy Fielding joined thirty-five years ago at the insistence of her mother and soon became a driving force behind the success of the writing group. Soon after she joined, she asked Charles (Chuck) Sasser to speak to the club. She still remembers the title of his first talk: “The Lonely Circle of Light.” Fielding and Sasser remain an active part of the Tulsa Night Writers and will be part of a large group who will be signing books on the porch at Steve’s. Additional authors planning on attending are: M. Carolyn Steele, Carol Lavelle Snow, Jackie King, Jim Laughter, Malcolm Richard, Mike Koch, Bob Avey, Michael Horton, Romney Nesbitt, Myra Johnson, Norma Boone, Vicke McDonough, Radine Trees Nehring, and Mary Sue Lopez. Saturday, July 3 1:00-3:00
2612 S. Harvard Tulsa, OK 74114 Saturday, June 26- 12:00-2:00
Tulsa Night Writers on the Porch
The Tulsa Night Writers is an organization of writers and soon-to-be writers, many of whom have become published after joining the group. They write in every genre, from romance to science fiction to poetry to stage plays.
Come out and support our local authors and let’s pray for cool temperatures!
Grocery Gardening : Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food
by Jean Ann Van Krevelen
Cool Springs Press $19.95 Softback
Grocery Gardening includes garden planning, planting, preparing, preserving and nutritional information for each of the more than twenty selected edibles. In addition to tips on when to harvest home grown vegetables, the authors offer advice on how to select the freshest produce at the local market, and select complementary ingredients to combine with your home-grown edibles. Jean Ann Van Krevelen, together with her team of food and gardening experts and their community of readers, encourage gardeners and non-gardeners alike to plan meals based on what is in season. Whether you buy local or grow your own, the recipes will delight your family with seasonal freshness. Also included is a chapter on preserving your harvest, with tips for freezing, drying, canning and preserving.
Be sure to stop in and chat with Jean Ann, originally from Enid. She’s coming back home from the west coast to visit. Help us extend a warm “Okie” welcome!
Thanks for supporting our local merchants! We all benefit when we shop our “mom and pop’ stores. Keep reading! ~Joanie
The organization was started fifty-five years ago by two couples whose wives had been in a daytime writing group, but wanted men to be able to attend as well. Several of the current 105 members are long-time members. Peggy Fielding joined thirty-five years ago at the insistence of her mother and soon became a driving force behind the success of the writing group. Soon after she joined, she asked Charles (Chuck) Sasser to speak to the club. She still remembers the title of his first talk: “The Lonely Circle of Light.”
Fielding and Sasser remain an active part of the Tulsa Night Writers and will be part of a large group who will be signing books on the porch at Steve’s. Additional authors planning on attending are: M. Carolyn Steele, Carol Lavelle Snow, Jackie King, Jim Laughter, Malcolm Richard, Mike Koch, Bob Avey, Michael Horton, Romney Nesbitt, Myra Johnson, Norma Boone, Vicke McDonough, Radine Trees Nehring, and Mary Sue Lopez.
Saturday, July 3 1:00-3:00
Note: Some of the issues are written by Geoff Johns. The book I have is a compilation of comics 1-5, as well as Monitor Duty and Walls. Reading comics is a much more complicated business than it used to be when I went to the T.G. & Y and got one for a nickel to fifteen cents. I’m in total agreement with Patton Oswalt (wrote the introduction for this book), that comics used to be complete in one episode or in one comic, actually his quote, “Comic books suck these days, and this book is a shining example why.” You’ll need to get this volume to see what else he has to say, but I’ll let you in on the secret, he doesn’t really think comics suck. Now the stories are more complex, there’s continuation of character development, and the plot isn’t going to evolve in one standalone issue.
Since I don’t frequent the comic stores, I’m one of those readers waiting for the series to all come together in one handy volume.
Comic buyers and readers out there, is this wrong? Do you buy issue by issue or wait?
Anyway the other problem I have with the new comics, there are so many characters, especially in this book, with the Justice League of America; the Justice Society of America; the Legion of Super Heroes all coming together in one volume. My head is spinning with super hero identification. And then there seem to past histories that I’m not in on, and I feel I’ve come to the meeting late.
The writing and illustrations in this volume are keeping me going, still trying to figure out who’s who. But believe me I want to find out, I want to know the whole story. I like super hero comics. I like comics to be colorful; all the dark, hard to see action of some graphic novels gets on my nerves. I like the fight for good v. evil, with super heroes struggling with their super hero problems.
I’m treating myself to Brad Meltzer’s comics, looking forward for the others to come. Nostalgic of dime store comics, drinking nickel vanilla cokes at Veazey’s Drug Store and reading under my grandma’s water cooler in 100 degree temperatures.
While I’m totally confused about who’s who and what’s what in the Lightning Saga, the next issue in the volume Walls, is a superb example of a survival tale. What makes us go into survival mode? What keeps us alive against all odds? This is good stuff in a small package. Also my Interlibrary Loan came in so I have Identity Crisis now.
Young Bill Young here. With this post, I’m starting a recurring feature about books that have had an impact on my life. (And I’m hoping you share some books that made a difference in your life in the comments section!)
We always talk about the power of reading on this blog, and some of the best conversations I’ve had with friends are about books that opened doors, or that helped us see the world in a new way.
First up is Dad, a novel by William Wharton. I read it years and years ago, but only recently have I fully appreciated it. You see, my Dad just turned 97 years old a couple of months ago. He has been in a nursing home for three years. He has the dementia that is common to the elderly, and his short term memory is pretty non-existent. His eyesight and hearing are beyond simply failing, but he is fairly content, still has a sense of humor, still plays his harmonica on occasion, still sings songs, and still flirts with the women.
He is also able to live in the moment much of the time. Other times, not so much. Some of the stories he tells these days are fascinating! Here’s a sampling:
• He has a second son who was a quarterback for the OU Sooners and is now a sports broadcaster.
• He owns land in Peru and has been unable to find out if oil has been discovered there.
• He runs a big, successful business with lots of employees, and he is very good to them. (A care plan meeting a couple of years ago was a “board meeting” in dad’s mind)
• He’s made excellent investments and is going to buy homes for me, my sister, and the other members of his family.
• He was lost in the jungle when he was younger, and was helped by an ape that lived there. When he was rescued, “they” wouldn’t let him take the ape home with him.
• He was an Olympic track star, and won two gold medals.
None of these stories are true, but no one can accuse my father of being a boring storyteller. Where the jungle story is probably related to dad’s preference for books, articles and television programs on science and nature, the other stories just had me shaking my head. Some of the stories (like the football-playing son, the smart investor, and the Peruvian landowner) are recurring tales. Where could these be coming from? And then one day, I remembered Dad.
In Wharton’s novel, the elderly father is slipping into dementia. The author not only tells the story from the caregiver son’s point of view, but from the point of view of the father, who is struggling with his memory. In the book, Dad is beginning to confuse his fantasy life with reality.
Fantasy life. We all have one. Did my father’s fantasy life include two sons, instead of just one? Was the other son a star football player? Did he daydream of being a successful business man? (He and mom owned a neighborhood grocery store in the late forties and early fifties.) Did he dream of wealth that he could use to help his family? Did he dream of a patch of land in a beautiful South American valley?
There is much more to Wharton’s Dad than the fantasies and confusion of an old man, but that’s the one theme of the book that revisited me while contemplating my own father’s mental journeys. I suppose this is a poetic way to look at it, certainly more intriguing than the simple misfiring of synapses and the dying of brain cells.
But there is often poetry in what my father says. Last weekend, he said to my sister: “My life is just a riddle.” Perhaps Wharton’s novel has helped me to decipher a bit of that riddle.
(My dad with balloon cap and harmonica at his 97th birthday celebration.)
Take a peek at all the writers workshops, conferences, and opportunities this month.
The Chisholm Trail Book Festival held September 18 in Duncan Oklahoma invites all published authors and illustrators to participate. Please visit www.chisholmtrailbookfestival.com for details and registration options.
Hurry! The deadline to reserve your spot is July 1!
So authors get your tables, and the rest of us can save September 18th to enjoy the event.
Young Bill Young here. Well, I can officially log-in as myself and don’t have to see that “posted by kitty pittman” line when I add my two cents to Okie Reads. However, I still have to say “Young Bill Young here” because it says this is “posted by wyoung.” We’re going to have to talk to Nick at NewsOk.com and get this worked out…
OK, it’s been raining cats and dogs in OKC, and it’s Monday, and it’s gloomier than a regular Monday, so you know you really, really, really need a Library YouTube Break. This was created for the OC Library. I’m thinking it’s Orange County cause OKC ain’t got no palm trees. Enjoy!
Thanks Young Bill Young for helping me out during my away time. Soon YBY will be joining me as another Okie, Reading books and posting regularly to this blog. So glad you want suggestions for mysteries, my favorite topic next to Science Fiction. All time favorite is Ian Rankin. I also love the southern mystery, especially the ones with a sense of humor. Favorite: Anne George, her Southern Sister mysteries. LOL. Also taking along on my trip was Kathy Hogan Trocheck, aka Mary Kay Andrews (just realized they were one and the same). Callahan Garrity runs an Atlanta maid service with her mom. She used to be a cop but is now a private investigator in between cleaning jobs. This one has a lot to say about the serious topic of race relations, but there’s a mystery to be solved and the House Mice are hard at work solving the crime.
Good reading, pick any book in the series. Excellent plane fare.
Speaking of which, what else did I take along for plane reading, conference downtime reading, and not at work reading this last week.
First, I never take library books, Interlibrary Loan books or anything I worry about losing. Don’t need the stress.
So it was good I had a load of Metro book sale books, then I happened on the University of Utah Book Store and found remainders for $0.88. WOW! Two romances and three mysteries for about 5 bucks. Loving it.
So I started with Sonnet of the Sphinx by Diana Killian. A Poetic Death Mystery (2006). Light but intellectually interesting if you like riddles about romantic poets, lost letters, ship wrecks and newly dead bodies. Characters include Grace Hollister an American literary scholar in an unlikely relationship with Peter Fox, antiques dealer and ex-jewel thief. He’s spent some time in a Turkish prison and soon a one time ex-jailer turns up dead and Peter finds himself a suspect. Detective Inspector Drummond, did I mention very good looking Det. Inspector Drummond, suspects both Hollister and Fox of not being completely honest with the police.
Then there is a very unlikeable librarian, and a new owner of the Mallow farm where the lost poem of Shelley may by residing and a host of clues from the past.
Second, Dead Serious by Susannah Stacey (pseud. of writing team Jill Staynes and Margaret Storey) . I remember Superintendent Bones from a previous book or maybe two. But of course can’t remember the other titles I’ve read. But this is a really good British crime series in the tradition of Dalgleish or Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks. Charlotte (Cha ) Bone’s daughter; Grizel, second wife and a host of townies round out the cast of characters. Body count begins with the corpse of an unsavory television personality found in the trunk of a car. And that is only the beginning of a holiday fete gone wrong.
Since I firmly believe Oklahoma is the center of the universe and all things eventually come home. I can’t help but point out a *Reference to a band playing a tune from Oklahoma during Biddinghurst’s local festival while mayhem ensues. There’s a lot of bad stuff afoot in this small town. Miss Marple would have been unnerved by the activity of the local citizenry. And I’ll leave you with this note from the news media, “W hat exactly was going on in Biddinghurst?”
All in all a good week for quick reads, shopping, beautiful Utah weather, great eating out and a nice visit with my sister in law. And of course, my work conference wasn’t bad either.
Young Bill Young here. Last Sunday a friend of mine asked what mysteries I’ve read lately that I would recommend. Other than suggesting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I didn’t have much to offer. As I’ve said, after running through Agatha Christie’s books during junior high, I rarely pick up a mystery.
My friend knows I read lots of sci-fi, and he hasn’t read very much in that genre. So he also asked what science fiction books I would recommend to a sci-fi newbie. I pretty much aced that part of the interrogation. Here’s what I recommended:
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I’m calling it a list of five, since the second Simmons book completes the story that begins in Hyperion, and the Brin books take place during the same time period in his Uplift Universe.
So, tell me: what mysteries would you recommend to someone in the mood for a good whodunit?
Yes, I could look up the lists of award-winning mysteries, but I really want to know what you folks think. Come on mystery fans! I know you’re out there…