Happy (belated) Holidays

Merry belated Christmas! I hope everyone has had a good holiday eating food, spending time with family, going to church, or eating Chinese food and going to a movie – whatever your holiday traditions may be, I hope you enjoyed them!

I enjoyed some downtime this week around Christmas which was nice and I am spending this week in Long Island which is chilly but lovely.

I gave and got some good presents this year as well including earrings for my mom, a round of tennis for my dad, and a book about the filming of Downton Abbey (the new season starts on the 5th guys, that’s so soon!). Books usually make their way onto my Christmas gift this and this year I got a gift card to Bookhampton, the bookstore in East Hampton, which is one of my favorite bookstores that I visit on a regular basis. I’m excited to browse with it and see what I can find.

I have my eye on a few books that came out recently. One is The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton which won the Man Booker Prize earlier this year. I started reading it in Bookhampton over Thanksgiving and was really impressed with its language. Its a rather hefty book though and it has pretty thin pages, so I might not read it immediately after finishing all of The Lord of the Rings books. I might want to read something short first, like Mockingjay, which I am also planning on rereading. But maybe after that I will dive into The Luminaries. (And the fact that Eleanor Catton is 28 astounds me.)

The other book I kind of had my eye on looked interesting and unconventional – S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. J.J. Abrams is actually the “creator” of the book while Dorst is the author. All the copies I have seen of this book have been wrapped up which is frustrating when you want to find out more about it, but from what I can tell it is a book that Dorst wrote with notes from two different fictional readers that tell a parallel story to it, which seems like an interesting idea.

I was a huge fan of LOST in high school, also a J.J. Abrams creation, which is why this book caught my eye a few months ago. But I don’t think I could give a concise summary of everything that happened in LOST without rewatching the show at least two more times, and I have a feeling that S. could turn out the same way.

I took an English class in college called Contemporary American Literature. The title was rather standard but the class itself was not. It was also known as Quantum Lit and we discussed how the ideas of Quantum Mechanics have affected literature (in terms of structure, plot etc.) There was a lot of disjointed narratives and chaos theory – if anyone has read Don DiLillo we focused a lot on him, particularly Underworld. Anyway, I have a feeling that S. would fit in well with that class. This makes me rather hesitant to read it for fun in my free time, but I am curious to see what it is. Maybe I will get it from the library first to check it out more thoroughly.

Also on the lighter side, I picked up a Jodi Picoult book yesterday when I was browsing and I enjoyed her style so maybe I will try her out as well. I have seen her books a lot but I never read any of them.

Anyway, those are my thoughts right now on how to spend my Christmas gift card, but who knows. In the meantime I will leave you with a picture of our Christmas tree and James, the bookstore cat.


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Revisiting Old Stories

I realized that since I started this blog I haven’t really been rereading too many books. This blog started as motivation for me to read all the books I missed out on when I wasn’t reading for fun because of school, so I have been playing a lot of catch up, but other than the Harry Potter books I haven’t really been rereading too many things over the past year and a half.

And I have always liked rereading books. It’s comforting to go back to old stories that you have read before, and a lot of times that is when I can look at books with a different eye since I have already done a preliminary read or two (or more in some cases).

So I was really happy over Thanksgiving break when I decided to reread Catching Fire in honor of the movie (which I still need to see!) I had only read Catching Fire once over winter break my senior year of college and I was surprised how much of the book I had forgotten. I didn’t want to go into the movie with almost a blank slate so I sat down and reread it (it didn’t take very long, after all).

And, when I do get around to seeing it, there will have been a bit of a gap after I finished it, so hopefully I will be able to enjoy the movie as its own entity rather than picking it apart for what was in the book vs. what was left out. (I tend to do this a lot but I also have heard that the second movie is better than the first, so I am interested to see how it plays out).

I am also planning on rereading Mockingjay which I remember even less of because by the time I got to that book I was already back in school and didn’t really have time to read it at all. So that should be fun.

In the spirit of rereading books that I got into over Thanksgiving, I am now rereading Lord of the Rings for a second time in honor of the second Hobbit movie which I saw last week at midnight. I went to see it at the Lincoln Center theater with a group of friends and Sir Ian McKellen showed up to introduce the movie! It was awesome! Unfortunately my phone had died by that point so I didn’t get a picture of him, but my friends got videos so I am using that as proof. In his words, “I have seen this movie and you are going to love it!” Seen it, been in it, starred in the franchise, you know, same thing.

So I am currently rereading Fellowship of the Ring and I am planning to continue the series through Christmas. It’s always nice to have a good book going during the holidays what with all the cozy fires and down time that they have.

And after I finish with the Lord of the Rings I want to read The Hobbit, because that is another book I never got around to. I remember starting it when I was younger but I just couldn’t get into it, but now that I have seen 2/3 of the movies and know what to expect a bit, I want to give it another shot. It makes me sad that I wasn’t really into the Lord of the Rings books before and that I only read them for the first time a few summers ago. Who knows, maybe if I started with the actual story as opposed to the prologue while I was on that plane however many years ago I would have been hooked, but I’m glad to be reading them now.

I haven’t been able to post as much these past few weeks but I hope everyone has a good holiday season and that they have the chance to curl up with a good book, preferably by a roaring fire in the fireplace.

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What’s Happening to American Girl?

There has been a lot of commotion on the internet lately about the changes that American Girl dolls and books are going through, particularly, as far as I’ve seen, in response to articles in The Washington Post and The Atlantic. While the iconic historical dolls, such as Molly and Addy, continue to be sold, American Girl, now owned by Mattel I would like to point out, is expanding their “Doll of the Year” campaign to release a modern doll every year that deals with more contemporary issues. And as a child of the ’90’s who grew up loving American Girl, I wanted to put my two scents in.

Everyone had a favorite doll, and mine was Molly. I feel like a lot of American Girl reflections begin with “I chose ____ because she looked like me”, and American Girl has been capitalizing on that ever since I was an avid follower with the option to create your own doll – something that I always poured over whenever I got my American Girl catalog, but never actually had. That was okay though because I wasn’t into the dolls as much as I was in it for the stories.

Yes, Molly has brown hair and so do I, but I don’t have glasses and my hair has never been manageable enough to be whipped easily into Molly’s braids. I’m not exactly sure why she was my favorite. Maybe because she was the most modern girl at the time (they have since made Julie, a girl of the ’70’s), or maybe it’s because her life was the most like mine. I’m not sure. But Molly was the way to go.

I also want to point out that I was completely obsessed with The Sound of Music at this time as well. We owned it on VHS and I probably watched it about once every few months. I have been on The Sound of Music tour, I knew all the songs and all the children’s names, and I even owned a dirdl.

I honestly don’t know which came first for me The Sound of Music, or Molly, but these two interests of mine pulled together into a fascination with World War II that started at the age of eight. I didn’t end up majoring in history in college or anything but I have always been interested in the subject, particularly in World War II which grew into a fascination with the 20th century. (See my reading choices in historical fiction here, here, and here.)

As school continued, this interest expanded to include the World War I era as well, (see reading choices here, my obsession with Downton Abbey, a paper I wrote in high school about how World War I set the stage for triggering World War II, the Modern America class I took in college, and the research I am doing for the historical aspects of my story idea.) Thanks, Molly!

I don’t know if all this can be traced directly back to Molly or not, but I do think it has to do with the fact that I was introduced to history not through a dry textbook, or a documentary, but through interesting historical characters who were my age and went on fun, exciting, historically accurate adventures.

Even though I didn’t like the other dolls as much as Molly I still learned much more about the Victorian era, slavery, and The Revolutionary War than I would have otherwise at that age. And just as I was about to outgrow American Girl (but while I was still very much into it) they came out with Kit from the Great Depression, so I learned about that era as well. Plus she liked to write and she had a typewriter – how much cooler can you get?

With their Doll of the Year campaign, American Girl is focusing on more contemporary stories and dolls that face similar issues to those of their owners. Issues such as struggling in school, bullying, and overcoming everyday obstacles, whether they are big or small are addressed. American Girl has always been quick to tackle topics like these, whether it is through their books, their magazine, or the other publications that they put out such as Help! or other advice books.

I don’t know these newer stories as well, but if they refrain from belittling the plots, characters, or issues, (the jury’s still out on this one – a girl who likes to swim in the pool but is afraid of a lake. And that’s it? Oh dear…) I believe that they can stay true to the company. Who knows, if I was into gymnastics as a nine year old maybe I would really connect with McKenna, the girl of the year from 2012? But for me it would have to depend on the story itself.

What I don’t agree with is the discontinuation of some of the historical characters. Yes, they still have Addy, Molly, Kit, and many other girls, and they have since come out with newer characters, such as Caroline who lives in upstate New York during the War of 1812. But they have discontinued others, such as Felicity, Kirsten, and Samantha. Okay, so I never could get into Kirsten’s story, (see the article from The Washington Post) but Felicity? The Revolutionary War? That’s where the whole thing began! American Girl, emphasis on American. Okay, they still have her books which is great, but if Felicity had been my favorite (she was probably my second favorite. I had the doll and man, did I know about the Revolutionary War as a child because of it) and I wanted the doll and it didn’t exist, I would be really sad. Also she had some great outfits. And that tea set as well.

And okay, I wasn’t as into Samantha either, but I did read the books, and I feel like some of the things that she deals with, like the Suffragette movement, are obvious things to cover, especially for a company aimed at young girls. History was always what their company has been based on and when that’s cut down it is a slippery slope to just becoming another toy company. I do like all the empowerment stuff that they emphasize for young girls, but I feel like that springs from the historical stories. That’s how many girls are introduced to American Girl, or at least it was for me.

And don’t even get me started on the changes that Mattel has made to the dolls themselves. Dolls are now skinner and wearing makeup, or at least lipstick. And are still aimed at 9 year old girls. As if our culture isn’t obsessed with looks and dealing with the consequences enough as it is. “Pre Mattel” outfits will be a little tight on the Mattel dolls. I always hated Barbie dolls, but don’t go making a franchise that stood out for focusing on history and empowerment for young girls all about looks. That’s where I draw the line!

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