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avoid at all costs

2012 October 17
by Romy

You know those people who, as soon as they get on a train/sit down at the doctor’s office/queue up at a registers, start chatting to the nearest stranger?

I am the opposite of those people. I will never strike up a conversation with a stranger, even if I really like the book they’re reading or the shoes they’re wearing. On the tram I avoid eye contact at all costs, and only occasionally look up to see if there are any pregnant women or old people who need my seat.

A few weeks ago, as I got on the tram, one of these chatty women tried to snare me in her trap as I sat down next to me. I made a polite joke in reply to what she said, and immediately put in my earphones. Crisis averted.

But now I felt guilty. All this woman wanted was some contact with another human being, something to break up the monotony of the trip home. Could I not spare ten minutes to talk to her? By that point it was too late to strike up a conversation again, but I resolved to make a change: make more eye contact with strangers, smile at them, and not go out of my way to avoid talking to them.

I put that into practice the following day, when I was again on a tram into the city. It was fairly packed, though not yet at sardine-level, and the tram driver did something I’ve never seen a tram driver do: she drove by a stop where some 5-6 people were waiting to get on the tram, because she realized that this tram was full — normally they stop anyway and let those would-be passengers try to squeeze themselves into someone else’s personal space. As I noticed what was happening, I looked up in amazement and caught the eye of the man standing next to me. And then I smiled at him as we shared this moment of confoundment. And he smiled back! This felt good!

That afternoon I was walking home when I saw a man walking in my direction. He said something to me which I couldn’t understand, so in my newfound openness I stopped and said “Sorry?”

Big mistake. I looked at him and noticed that he had a frazzled expression and was holding a small radio to his ear the entire time. The man repeated what he’d said to me: “Did you hear about that girl who got stabbed? Yes it just happened, I just heard it on the radio! She got stabbed and they set her house on fire. And just last week there was that girl here on Sydney Road who got raped and killed! You know what they should do? They should bring back hanging! If they bring back hanging then they will be too scared to do things like this!”

I hurried off, once more validated in my old belief that contact with strangers should be avoided at all costs.

abookaweek 2012: week forty-one

2012 October 14
by Romy

Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery

Category: Non-fiction

Story: A collection of academic essays around Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Opinion: I picked up this book because a) I love Buffy, and b) I’m a fairly superficial TV watcher, so I wanted someone to point out and discuss the aspects I tend to miss as a casual watcher. I’ve started re-watching the show from the start recently, and I’m definitely picking up on things that I missed in my umpteen previous viewings, after reading this book.

On the whole, however, this book was just a bit too academic and, dare I say it, haughty for me. While I enjoyed essays discussing American Christianity v. Buffy’s vampires, I was turned off by one chapter which discussed why we are “denied an erotic queer reading of Buffy and Willow’s relationship.”

shit

2012 October 10
by Romy

A couple of years ago Callum and I were visiting his family, when Callum took me aside and politely suggested I try to use fewer swear words around them. I immediately became very defensive, both because I talk the way I talk and swear words are a part of that, but also because I suddenly felt embarrassed. Most people know that I express myself freely crassly, and while I do tend to be a bit more self-aware around people I’m trying to impress, I clearly hadn’t quite filtered everything around Callum’s parents.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that for me, using swear words is part of who I am, and while I know I need to talk appropriately in certain situations, I also think I should be allowed to say ”shit’ if it makes sense in the context.

I’ve recently noticed that a colleague of mine, a mother of three kids, swears even more than I do. I try to restrain myself in the office, but the occasional ‘fuck’ escapes my lips sometimes when something has gone wrong. My colleague, however, has taken the mommy-approach to swearing: replacing regular curse words with ‘kid-friendly’ words such as ‘fruit tingles’ (fuck) and ‘sugar’ (shit). I’ve heard people (parents and non-parents) use those words before and never thought much of it. But it occurred to me that if you’re going to swear around children (which, to be fair, I don’t know if she does), that you might as well get the satisfaction of using real swear words. Kids are smart, they’ll probably have heard the bad words a thousand times by the time they hit age 5, so I doubt that they’re fooled by the ‘fruit tingles’ uttered by their parents when something goes wrong.

So why bother? Are you really setting an example for your kids by replacing one word with another? It still serves the same function.

Also, for those people who ask me if Callum and I are planning to have children, I hope my defense of swearing has made it clear that I’m just not fucking ready for that shit.

 

abookaweek 2012: week forty

2012 October 7
by Romy

The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness

Category: Post-apocalyptic / dystopian

Story: These two books continue and finish the story started in The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Opinion: After reading umpteen dystopian YA novels I know better than to think that the rest of the series is going to be as good as the first book. Nonetheless, the characters and plot in TKoNLG gave me high hopes for the rest of this series. As it turns out I was disappointed with the two later books, though for two very different reasons.

The Ask and the Answer slows down the pace of the story, leaving Todd and Viola in one place in order to dive into some political intrigue. But while I love me some backstabbing and scheming, the lack of action and movement made it hard for me to stay interested in the story. The only thing that really kept me going were the characters, which steered clear from any black and white good versus bad stereotyping. Even Todd and Viola, the main characters for whom you can’t help but root,* did some questionable things.

So while I was disappointed with TAatA, I was too emotionally invested in the characters to leave this series unfinished.

I’m guessing Ness got criticized for the slow pace in TAatA, because Monsters of Men did a 180-degree turn and was nothing but action, all the time. The chapters were too short (most only 1 or 2 pages) and every single one ended in a cliffhanger. You can’t make a book that consists solely of cliffhangers! They were the cheap kind too:

  • “And I turn-  And I fire-“
  • “And he starts coming right towards us-“
  • “And then we see just what exactly the brightest light source is.”
  • “And for a second, I truly don’t believe my eyes.”
  • “And the spinning fires reach us-“
  • “And then she says something I never expected in a million years.”
  • “Something’s happening in the town!”

Well, you get it. That’s some seriously shit writing from someone who has proven in the past to be an excellent writer. What was his editor doing?

Anyway, I had to finish reading it, and I have to say that the last third or so of the book does get better, but these two books just didn’t live up to TKoNLG.

 

*I’ve been trying not to end my sentences with prepositions but sentences like this make me want to throw that rule out the window.

abookaweek 2012: week thirty-eight

2012 September 23
by Romy

The Running Man, by Stephen King

Category: Post-apocalyptic / dystopian

Story: In an alternate future American, the gap between rich and poor has become so wide that the only way to get enough money for food and medicine is to participate in one of many degrading and dangerous game shows. Ben Richards’ daughter is suffering from severe pneumonia, so in order to save her he enters a game show where the main goal is to stay alive while he is being hunted down by professional hit men.

Opinion: The Running Man is enjoyable in the way that almost all of King’s books are enjoyable, that is to say: on a not particularly deep level. His characters all tend to be very similar, but personally I find a bit of comfort in that familiarity. Funnily enough, its the characters that really stand out in this novel. Richards isn’t interesting, but the people he meets along his way to impending doom certainly are.

However, I think there have been too many outstanding dystopian novels to make this one stand out; even King himself has written better ones, most notably The Long Walk, which is innovative and engaging despite its limited setting.

I should also add that it didn’t help that I suddenly remembered the ending of the book very vividly while I was 1/3 of the way in; I’d read this book as a teenager.