Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume 2

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume 2 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume 2 by Scott Lobdell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I definitely enjoyed this volume as well as the first one. In particular, I appreciated the stronger presence of diverse female characters, such as the slayer Kendra and the formidable sisters Lilith and Lamia. I think Volume 1 could be read and appreciated by people who have not watched the TV show. Since this collection does not flow quite as linearly, it would help for people to have seen the first 3 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For me, this volume filled in important gaps of Buffy's story, such as her parents' divorce, her sister Dawn, and what happened during Spike and Dru's trip to Europe. The artwork is beautiful, and the book is a fun and engaging read. Also, the female characters are drawn realistically, which I appreciate.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Gender Trouble

Gender Trouble Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fascinating read! It was dense and took me a long time, but it was worth going on the journey with Judith Butler. I learned a lot about feminism, poststructuralism, and queer theory. Many of the feminist theorists who influenced Butler were ones who I read in Theoretical Frameworks this past semester, so I enjoyed revisiting them. This was one of the most helpful books I have read in a long time, and it is worthwhile for scholars interested in gender issues and feminism.

View all my reviews

Review: Niobe: She Is Life #1

Niobe: She Is Life #1 Niobe: She Is Life #1 by Sebastian A. Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed this comic and look forward to giving it a second read. It is a fantasy story with some nontraditional twists and a strong female protagonist, and the art work is beautiful.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, Vol. 1

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, Vol. 1 Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Joss Whedon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was perfect for getting me through the busy "end of the semester" period in December and for keeping me entertained on a long flight to the Caribbean. And to top it all off, I finished it on the beach today! Many of my favorite Buffy characters showed up in this book. I got to learn more about Rupert Giles, Spike, and Angel, all of whom I loved! It was fun to see how Buffy and Pike's relationship moved forward (and then, well, didn't) after the movie that I watched way back in the day with one of my babysitters. The artwork in this book is amazing, and the artists really bring the TV show characters to life. Also, I learned more of the back story of Buffy's family and the school fire incident that the show often referred to. I am nearing the end of Season 4 in terms of watching the TV show, so I can't wait to learn more about Giles's dark and twisted past. I'll have to get the Season 8 and Season 9 Buffy comics when I am done watching the show. I can't wait for Buffy Omnibus Volume 2, and eventually for the Angel Omnibus comics! Buffy paved the way for some of the currently emerging female superheroes, in my opinion, so I love reading about her past. :)

View all my reviews

Review: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this series so much! I have written about it before and will continue to do so. This has been my favorite volume so far, in part because of the character development, in part because I tend to love "end of days," apocalyptic stories. It's the speculative fiction nerd in me! The dialogue in this volume is compelling, and I love how Captain Marvel and Spiderman both make appearances, and they're two other superhero favorites of mine. Kamala's relationships take important turns in this book, so read it ASAP! You won't be sorry. :)

View all my reviews

Monday, December 14, 2015

Comics Outside the Canon: Recommendations for Adolescents and Pre-Service Teachers

     Since my colleagues know that I am interested in comics and graphic novels, I frequently get asked to recommend graphica/comic books for classroom use and for adolescents to read for interest. Recently, I have been thinking in particular about comic volumes and graphic novels that have not yet been canonized the way such books as Art Spiegelman’s The Complete Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis have. These important graphic novels paved the way for the exploration of comics and graphic novels in classroom settings. However, I am learning about so many other options out there! At some of the NCTE panels and roundtables related to Young Adult Literature and courses for pre-service teachers, I was reminded of how important it is for educators to learn about high interest readings for adolescents, so they can form a literary connection with their students. Therefore, here are a few fresh selections of the comics/graphica form:

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David, and Colleen Doran: This graphic memoir tells the story of Stan Lee’s life, from his early days in New York City growing up with a Romanian Jewish immigrant family who struggled during the Great Depression to getting his own star on the walk of fame in Hollywood, California. Lee’s story is a true “rags to riches” tale of a person who lived the American Dream and who read a lot and worked hard to make his own way in life. It would be an inspiration to many students, particularly those who are not feeling motivated in school and who do not have a lot of financial opportunities. Additionally, Lee’s story is a testament to the power of the immigrant narrative, creativity, imagination, and determination.


      Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes by Adilifu Nama: Currently, there are not a lot of books devoted to the scholarship of African-American characters in comic books, but this is a very well-written one. As a current reader, I am finding it accessible and also informative. In particular, I am intrigued to learn about the Black Panther comics, the emergence of Storm, and the Cloak and Dagger series. I am learning about fascinating comics with important history that I would not have learned about before, and how comics and pop culture truly tell the narrative of American history. Many comics and films Nama discusses would make for intriguing and critical class discussions.



      The Midas Flesh Volumes One and Two, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb: This two-volume comic is a fascinating mix of science fiction and mythology. In an imagined universe, King Midas turned the planet Earth entirely into gold, and beings from other planets are dealing with the aftermath. This book is a gripping adventure stories with strong female characters who defy gender norms and who want to fight for the greater good, even if they do not always agree on the courses of action. I loved the different representations of race and creed of the characters, and it does not tell a single narrative. The pacing is perfect, and the conclusion at the end raises important questions about materialism versus knowledge. Adolescent and college students alike will love these books. 



        Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume One: This book will particularly resonate with fans of the film and the television show, but even those who do not have a past background in Buffy’s story will enjoy this and other volumes of this series. Volume 1 tells more of Buffy’s back-story, and we learn more about her life between the film and the start of the television show. In addition, readers learn more about the history of key characters Spike and Drusilla. Since Buffy helped pave the way for other female superheroes, this book would be interesting to study for cultural implications, in addition to being enjoyable to read.



      Saga Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: I am super excited about this series and plan to continue reading it! I think it makes for a great class discussion about sociocultural issues and racial relations. It’s about two soldiers who are on opposite sides of an intergalactic war and who fall in love and, against all odds, bring a new baby into a warring world. I think it’ll be fun to compare it to Joss Whedon’s Serenity comics. It’s a cool blend between science fiction and fantasy, although I now tend to use the term speculative fiction because I think the lines between sci-fi and fantasy often blur, which will be fun to write about in one of my comps essays! My undergraduate students who have read this book love it. It is labeled "M" for mature and is probably more appropriate for older high school students than young teenagers due to some of the language and content. 



References:
Lee, S., David, P., & Doran, C. (2015). Amazing fantastic incredible: A marvelous
memoir. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Nama, A. (2011). Super black: American pop culture and black superheroes. Austin,
TX: University of Texas Press.
North, R., Paroline, S., & Lamb, B. (2014). The midas flesh volume one. Los Angeles,
CA: Boom! Studios.
North, R., Paroline, S., & Lamb, B. (2014). The midas flesh volume two. Los Angeles,
CA: Boom! Studios.
Satrapi, M. (2007).  The complete persepolis.  New York: Pantheon Books
Spiegelman, A. (1996). The complete maus. New York: Pantheon.   
Vaughan, B. & Staples, F. Saga volume one. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics.
Whedon, J., Bennett, J., Brereton, D., Golden, C., Gomez, H. Lee, P., …Richards, C.
(2007). Buffy the vampire slayer omnibus volume 1. Milwaukie, OR: Dark
Horse Books.




Review: Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was super fun to read, especially since I love Marvel Comics and wanted to learn more about Stan Lee's life. In particular, I wanted to learn more about what he was thinking while he created the X-Men and Spiderman, and I did. He also gives some great tips for writers of any genre. His story is a great "rags to riches" tale, as he was from a family of Jewish Romanian immigrants who struggled during the Great Depression. Yet he read a lot and excelled in school, and he started off as an editorial assistant for a comics company. He did not have a fancy education, but he read and wrote a lot and worked hard and managed to succeed. I definitely plan to write in my blog about why I would recommend this book for teaching. This is such a good read and beneficial to teachers and comics scholars alike. It was the perfect choice for my graphic novels/comics book club at Avid Bookshop in Athens. :)

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Review: Carry On

Carry On Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a combination of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so OF COURSE I loved it! If I could, I would give it 4.5 instead of 5 stars only because I got a little bit confused at the beginning trying to keep the characters straight. But then once I got into characters, the book was totally worth it. My dear book club buddy Caleb Z. Huett is a wise man and gave me good advice on this book: think of their Harry Potter counterparts, and it makes the beginning of the book much easier to follow. (Simon Snow = Harry, Baz = Draco, Penelope = Hermione, Agatha = Ginny, the Madge = a variation of Dumbledore). Of course, they are not exactly like their counterparts, but thinking of it that way made the beginning chapters easier to follow. I loved how Simon Snow was a broken chosen one, Baz was a vampire with a soul (very much like Angel in Buffy), Penelope was a strong woman of color and a great best friend, and Agatha ends up awesome and in one of my favorite places in the world by the end...that's all I can say without spoiling it. I didn't really like Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter books, but I liked Agatha by the end of this one, so it was nice to see the Chosen One's former girlfriend become cool by the end. As usual, Rainbow Rowell's characters are well developed, and the world is a fun place to be, especially in light of recent sad world events. It's a long book, but it goes fast, and I sometimes felt like I was watching an entertaining movie. Also, it brings up many good questions about gender and sexuality as being fluid and on a spectrum rather than fixed. How funny, I read this book in part because I wanted to read something not pertaining to my comprehensive exam essays, but now, I look at the world through a socialist feminist and poststructural feminist lenses. I love it, but it is becoming hard for me to separate work from leisure these days, partly because I love what I do for my work. I suppose it's a good problem to have. Friends, read this book, it will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside and like you've had a nice cup of hot chocolate.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 30, 2015

Goodbye Fish, Hello Supergirl and Kamala: Why Youth Culture and Feminism Need Both of these Superwomen!

I still have tonights' and one other Supergirl episode to catch up on, but I will go ahead and tell you all that I am LOVING IT! I've been watching Gotham as well, but I had to stop for a while because I was in kind of a personal funk, and Gotham has been REALLY dark this season! I'm happier now, so I am catching up on Gotham as well. I know some of you in the comics fandom community will disagree with me, but…I thought Gotham got off to kind of a rough start this season. But it's getting better, and I look forward to seeing how this Penguin versus The Mayor war plays out. No spoilers, please! Also, I think the dynamic between Jim Gordon and Captain Barnes is interesting. I must say, though, that Gotham lost something when they lost Jada Pinkett Smith. Fish Mooney was MY FAVORITE CHARACTER on the show. She was a strong female protagonist of color, she was sexy and smart, and she didn't take any crap from the male "boss" figures in Gotham. She was mean sometimes, but she was still my heroine. I miss her terribly.


So, after missing my girl Fish Mooney, Supergirl was a breath of fresh air for me. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was a twenty something. Watching the show, I assumed her character was about 26 years old, and actress Melissa Benoit is 27. (As a side note, I did NOT realize that the actress was also Marley Rose from Glee, but that makes sense). This Supergirl figure embodies everything that society finds attractive in an American female because she's tall, thin, and blond with fair, clear skin and light blue eyes. But I can forgive them for that because that description also fits another female superhero favorite of mine, Buffy Summers; it's just interesting to notice, from my researcher's perspective. Personality wise, though, Supergirl is more unconventional just because she's so quirky, and I love that about her. Also, I think she's getting tougher and smarter as the show goes on, and I can't wait to continue to see her grow. And yes, I got a little teary-eyed in the episode I just watched because she was online chatting with her cousin Superman and thanked him for saving her life. He said you're welcome, but he promised not to do it again because he and her male crush (a tall, attractive Black man) now understand that she needs to be the one to save the day. She has something to prove, both to her cousin and to her Ally McBeal boss. 


I am still learning about feminism, but I believe Kara a.k.a. Supergirl represents third wave feminism, and her boss represents second wave feminism. Her boss reminds me a lot of Hillary Clinton, only she's a bit younger (Calista Flockhart, the actress who played her, was born in 1964). Like my mother, Supergirl/Kara's boss Cat Grant has had to work very hard to make their way to the top, which makes sense because only so many women have been truly successful in journalism up to this point. Kara, though, proves that a woman can be both adorable and strong. When Cat's article about Supergirl criticizes both her and the Millennial generation for being without substance, Kara fights back, on behalf of her superhero and her generation. Also, she makes it clear that she doesn't want her male cousin to rescue her because after all, she was sent from Krypton to help him and just got caught up in transit. To me, Supergirl is fighting for women, but especially for Millennial women who are trying to climb our way up in our chosen professions. I am only on the outer edge of this age group, but I can relate to her obstacles. I'm glad her older sister is also a brilliant bad ass and a scientist. 

Kamala Khan is of Generation Y/high school age, younger than Supergirl and me, yet she is also a woman with something to prove. Just like Supergirl is trying to live up to Clark Kent's legacy, Kamala is trying to live up to Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel, the original Ms. Marvel. (By the way, does anyone else think it's weird that Supergirl and her sister have the last name Danvers? Was that intentional, or just a common name for female superheroes)? I have written about Kamala and will continue to do so because she represents intersectionality, feminism, the immigrant story, and the desire to represent teenagers and youth culture in a positive light. She and Supergirl have many things in common: they both have narratives around the immigrant story (since Supergirl is from Krypton and Kamala's family is from Pakistan), they both want to be spokeswomen for their generation, and they both want to have their own identity as superheroes, not just be a shadow of their predecessors. 


I believe that young women (and yes, thirty something women in addition to teenage girls and twenty something year old women) need Kamala and Supergirl to inspire us. We still live in a world where women make 75 cents to every dollar men make, where women are objectified, and where women have to fight harder to make it professionally and to get what we want out of life. I have thought to myself more than once, "I have a great life, but it would have been easier if I had been born a man. People would better appreciate my wit and my intelligence, and I wouldn't have to obsess about my physical appearance quite so much). As someone who was in gifted programs in school, had reconstructive jaw surgery, overcame bullying, overcame a learning disability, had a difficult geographic move when I was a teenager, and has endured a fair amount of personal loss for someone my age, the stories of these superwomen resonate with me. And yes, Kara should be Superwoman, not Supergirl. If I have a daughter, then I hope she'll have it easier than I did growing up, even though I still feel that I am growing up. Hopefully, she'll find her own super powers and learn to use them to make life better for the women who follow her lead. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Fledgling

Fledgling Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It was Octavia E. Butler's last novel, and she was the first Black woman to truly make a mark in Speculative fiction in the U.S. I read the book because my colleague and I are working on a book chapter about teaching fantasy literature with a critical literacy lens, and we thought this novel would be a good fit for an advanced high school classroom. I believe it would, especially when comparing it to other vampire stories. The novel deals with such important issues as race, gender, power, feminism, family dynamics, and socioeconomic privilege in a way that is captivating and interesting to read, which is why I love the speculative fiction genre. I finished the novel quickly in part because I was so engaged with it. Every chapter ended with a captivating cliff hanger that encouraged me to read on, and the pacing of the novel was perfect! I definitely want to read more of this author's work. Also, the novel gives me additional insights to consider for my comprehensive exam essays. I loved reading this book! If you like speculative fiction and literature with powerful female characters, this book is for you. This book is why I do what I do; more speculative fiction and books with strong female protagonists of color need to make their way into the literary canon.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov

Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov by Kirin Narayan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a breath of fresh air and a perfect mix of the theory and practice of writing autoethnography and evocative ethnography. The writing style was accessible, and the activities are ones that I can see myself doing on a day when I feel stuck. I also think it would be a helpful read for those interested in writing creative nonfiction, whether or not it has an autoethnographic focus. I loved this book, and reading it made me feel like I was having coffee with a writing buddy to discuss our research and our art. Also, I loved the references to other literary ethnographers and found the examples helpful for scene building and sensory detail development, the writing skills that I most need to further develop.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility

A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility A Thrice-Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Ethnographic Responsibility by Margery Wolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feminism, ethnographic study, postmodernism, and evocative ethnography…of course I enjoyed it! In particular, I enjoyed the creative/imaginative piece. I thought it was very compelling, and it made a strong case for evocative ethnography and autoethnography, both of which are methodologies I am passionate about. My only critique is that I would have liked fewer field notes and more commentary about them. Field notes can be dry to read if you are not the researcher herself, and more commentary would have helped me better understand how she wrote both her traditional academic piece and her more evocative piece. Overall, I loved the book, especially the parts where she discussed how feminist theory and postmodern theory inform her work. I am seeing more and more how feminism affects my understandings and my daily life, so I could relate to these ruminations.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: Blue

Blue Blue by Patricia Leavy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed Low Fat Love and American Circumstance, but this has been my favorite book of Patricia Leavy's so far. Tash, Penelope, and Jason are all characters who I would enjoy having as my friends. The book offers thoughtful insight on being a twentysomething in a big city, and it brought back memories for me. I also loved the references to pop culture and the social commentary on art. This is a very worthwhile read, especially for people interested in arts-based research, gender issue, and social fiction.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review: The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel about Autoethnography

The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel about Autoethnography The Ethnographic I: A Methodological Novel about Autoethnography by Carolyn Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book overall, and it helped me to gain a better understanding of autoethnography and the ethical implications of this methodology. It was dialogue intensive with narrative writing, and it was a nice balance between academic discourse and the storytelling style of novels. I think parts of it could have been condensed, but overall, I got a lot out of reading it. I feel encouraged to write more autoethnographic pieces. It makes sense that I would gravitate toward a methodology that is a blend of literature, psychology, and sociology. It also does a good job of addressing some of the critiques of autoethnography. It is more introspective, but if it's done well, it helps people to think more deeply about their own introspection and themselves as related to sociocultural issues. Also, it can be therapeutic to write, as I am already finding.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: An Introduction to Social Constructionism

An Introduction to Social Constructionism An Introduction to Social Constructionism by Vivien Burr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this book is amazing! I recommend it to all humanities and social science scholars, and I wish I had read it earlier in my doctoral program. It really helped me to better understand social constructionism theories and poststructural theories, along with discourse analysis. Burr breaks down important theories of Foucault, Derrida, and other key scholars in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. If you're interested in doing humanities and social science research, pick it up and read it today! It's worth it.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness

Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness by Clem Martini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was definitely an interesting read, and it will help me with a current project I am doing on comics that represent mental health issues. It definitely makes important statements of how traditional healthcare sometimes fails people with mental health issues. What I found uplifting about the book is how much the family support mattered to Liv and how his connections to his family truly saved him. Also, I loved how Clem did the writing and Liv did the drawings. Artistic collaborations between people who truly love each other make for great work. This is definitely worth reading!

View all my reviews

Review: A Teacher's Introduction to Reader-Response Theories

A Teacher's Introduction to Reader-Response Theories A Teacher's Introduction to Reader-Response Theories by Richard W. Beach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this book! It takes complex reader response theories and breaks them down in a way that is easy to understand. In particular, I was interested in the cultural response theories, and that section will help me greatly with my comprehensive exam essays. I would recommend this book to Language and Literacy Education practitioners and researchers alike. I am so glad I got to read it prior to having the privilege of meeting Dr. Beach and hearing him speak at UGA in a few days!

View all my reviews

Friday, October 2, 2015

Review: Wytches, Vol. 1

Wytches, Vol. 1 Wytches, Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! I have enjoyed reading horror stories since I was a kid, and this comic turned graphic novel combined two of my literary passions, horror stories and comics. I read it for the graphic novel book club of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia, and I'm so glad I did. It had fantasy and gothic elements to it, in addition to in depth character analysis and deeper themes of self-awareness, so I was hooked from beginning to end. I was frightened at times, but in the best possible way. Really, the scariest "Wytches" are our own insecurities and our demons within, and this story conveyed that point so well. Also, the art work was amazing, and the dialogue was captivating. I definitely recommend this book and hope to read the other volumes. :)

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review: Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating read, even though I disagreed with some of his ideas. He did an excellent job of explaining how romantic/sexual love, aggression, and the desire for community motivate people. Also, he addressed some of the potential flaws of Marxist theory, which is that human beings by instinct want to own their own property and strive for success. I am surprised that he did not address another major element of human nature, though, which is the desire for humans to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves. I am not an Atheist, and Freud was, so perhaps we look at this element of human nature differently. However, as much as he contributed to the fields of psychiatry and psychology, I'm surprised that he did not address this. He discussed our desire for connection with others, but what about with the rest of the universe? I found that I was left with a lot of questions after reading this book, which in some ways is good because it made me think. I was also interested to read his history: He had to leave Vienna during his elderly years to escape the Nazi occupation (he was Jewish by heritage), and he escaped to Paris and London to do his later work.
In 1908, Freud wrote an essay about creative writers and daydreaming. I really want to read this essay. As a kid in school, the only things I ever got in trouble for were: 1. being late to class (rarely) and 2. daydreaming (frequently, at least in elementary school; I learned to be more subtle about it in middle and high school). This is a side of his work that I definitely want to explore, as he seemed interested in the creative person's psyche.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope PĂ©rez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book! I am writing a more detailed review for the Fall 2015 edition of JoLLE (Journal of Language and Literacy Education), so please check it out! This book is beautifully written and haunting. Once I got to know all of the characters, I couldn't put it down. Be warned that it is very dark, but it is also an important read. Please share it with your high school students, especially your female high school students! Also, the end of the novel is a testament to the power of writing and its ability to give marginalized people a voice. A worthwhile read!

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Confessions of a Fan Girl: Dragoncon and Beyond

On Monday evening, as I drove home to Athens wearing my Captain Janeway Star Trek t-shirt, I felt a little nostalgic about leaving Dragoncon. I had been able to have in-depth conversations with friends I hadn't seen in a long time, go to amazing panels with inspirational authors, and walk around in superhero costumes. Where else would I get to do that? I got out of my car and thought to myself, people here are going to look at me like I'm a weirdo, which I kind of am, for wearing this t-shirt. But who cares? If there's anything I got out of Dragoncon this year, it's that if we as women are going to feel more welcome in fandom communities, we need to embrace our fangirl identities and wear them proudly.

So I walked into Zaxby's to get myself a blue salad. The cashier looked about ten to fifteen years younger than me (as do many people in Athens, Georgia), and the first words out of my mouth were "I like your t-shirt!" I smiled and was excited. People say that Generation Z is going to be an activist generation, more so than Generations X or Y. This kid looked like he was around Generation Y age (mid high school), so I hope his age group better embraces female fans. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that she wore a Star Wars t-shirt on her way home, and some jerk at Chick-Fil-A asked her, "do you even LIKE Star Wars?" Really? Maybe I have it better than most because I live in a college town that's more liberal than most southern cities, or maybe there's a generation gap here. But if anything, stories such as this one, and the ones that Naomi Novik told at the Fangirl panel, encourage me to wear my nerd culture costumes and t-shirts proudly.

The Costume Dilemma  
Unfortunately, females sometimes still face harassment in fan settings, both online and in person.  At Dragoncon, I wore this Wonder Woman costume, which is the same one I wore last year:

I didn't think it was nearly as suggestive as some costumes that I see at Dragoncon. However, I got a few comments from men that walked the line between flattering and objectifying. Honestly, that was discouraging to me, seeing as Dragoncon is supposed to be a place that embraces people for who they are--and most of the time, it is. I went to a couple of panels that addressed the idea that cosplay should not be an invitation for harassment, so I'm glad it is being addressed.

On the other side of the coin, a Wonder Woman was walking in front of me who was 5 foot 8 and around a size four. She and I were chatting as I walked behind her to the escalator. One man who we walked by said to her, "not everyone pulls off that costume as well as you do." I wasn't sure if that comment was aimed directly at me…I prefer to assume good will and hope it wasn't…but it still pissed me off. I liked her response, though, which was "I think anyone who wants to wear it should." That shut him up fast. It's just interesting that no one makes such comments about the costumes that men choose to wear.

A friend of mine once said, "I think men are afraid to show their bodies and females are expected to," which makes the costuming situation ever so complicated for women. It's even trickier for women like me who, as Mindy from The Mindy Project would say, vacillate between curvy and chubby. We often can't wear the plus size costumes, but we can't wear the super short women's SUPPOSEDLY size medium (not really) costumes either, since Amazon sometimes does not offer some costumes in a women's size large or extra large, only extra small, small, or medium. Sheesh. Maybe I'll just say screw it and dress like a witch for Halloween this year. Or I'll be Willow Rosenberg again; I didn't get any comments for this costume:


So, there we go, I'll be evil Willow and wear my red wig with my black witch's costume dress. That's a happy medium between a costume that people might harass me in and one like my t-shirt and jeans costume above, which pretty much hid the fact that I'm a woman.

The Positive Side 
Okay, all ranting aside, I saw some huge steps forward taken at Dragoncon this year. The Comics and Popular Arts Conference at Dragoncon, along with the Comics track, did a wonderful job of presenting panels that encourage us to think more deeply about comics and popular culture. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin's panel on March I and March II was so moving it brought me to tears. I now want to read March II, which has been sitting on my shelf for months. I was just amazed at John Lewis's lived experience and at how beautifully he, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell can bring them together in a graphic novel format. It's a testament to the power of comics. Many of the other panels within these tracks made me think about how we can better analyze superhero comics. Also, through the comics and Young Adult Literature tracks, I met the amazing Gwenda Bond, who wrote Fallout, a novel about Lois Lane as a teenager. I am so excited to read it, as it shows Lois as a more empowered female character.

Naomi Novik also did an amazing panel about being a fangirl, in which she talked about how to build fan communities both online and offline. I too miss the days of Livejournal, but her panel encouraged me to get a Tumblr account to help give me exposure as a writer. Also, I need to look for more online communities related to my Whedon and comics loves. I am lucky enough to be in a graduate school community that encourages my passions, where colleagues ask me to come to their classes to discuss comics and graphic novels, and where my professors encourage me to write articles and book chapters about fantasy, comics, and graphic novels. But there are only so many people here who have these specific interests, so I need to continue to cast my net. The Whedon track's panel on Warrior Women gave me some great ideas for a book chapter I am working on, and there were clearly many empowered women in the room, which was encouraging.

So, What Next? 
Clearly, Naomi Novik is not only an amazing fantasy writer, but also an advocate for fangirls. I want to be one too, both as a scholar and on a personal level. My mom is an academic too, only she studies 19th century women's literature. I hope I'm not putting words in my mom's mouth here, but I think it makes her proud that I write academic articles about genres that have been traditionally dominated by men. Women like my mom, and some in my department, paved the way for my female graduate school colleagues and me to BE academics, and for that I am grateful. In my Qualitative Methods class last night, my professor pointed out that in a class of about 25-26 people, we only have five men total, and only three of them are white men. Yes, education and humanities Ph.D. seminars are more female dominated than some, but I still thought that statistic was encouraging.

So yes, I'm going to be a female academic and a female fangirl, and a proud one at that. I hope to one day be a published writer of creative writing in addition to academic writing, but I think that might be a journey I am meant to go down later in my life. I'm okay with that. Regardless of where my writing career takes me, I want to pave the way for the Generation Z women who come behind me. Hopefully, when they go into comic shops, the store owner won't assume that they are buying comics for their boyfriends. And hopefully, they will also buy comics and graphic novels that remind them of important social justice issues, and they will listen to John Lewis's call to us all to make necessary trouble. For me, and maybe for some of them too, the pen will be mightier than the sword.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Another Day

Another Day Another Day by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started and finished this book tonight, if that tells you how much I got into it! I loved Every Day, and it was one of my favorite books by David Levithan, along with Love is the Higher Law. I was even more swept up with this one! I could really relate to Rhiannon's character because I've been in her emotional place, both more recently and as a teenager. She wants so badly to connect to people, but isn't sure how to go about it, and A teaches her how to truly open herself up. I was so intensely involved with the book that the last lines made me cry! In short, it was beautiful. To the scholar in me, it brought up so many important issues about embodiment, sexuality, and gender as a social construction. On a personal level, it made me think a lot about why we fall in love with the people we do and why some of us stay in relationships that only drag us down. I was glad that Rhiannon started to realize that she deserved better. David Levithan really knows characters; he reminds me of Joss Whedon that way. I am a bit of a Levithan fangirl, which is why I follow him around at book events the way some teenagers follow rock stars around at concerts. :) But seriously, I felt like Rhiannon was the kind of person who could be my friend and that A was the kind of person whom I could fall for. It sounds a little corny, but this book helped me to entertain the idea that true love exists, and I really needed that. Also, it reminded me of the value of friendship and staying true to oneself. I appreciated the balance between realism and optimism, and Levithan's books always leave me feeling better about the world. Seriously, friends, read this book! You'll be glad that you did. It made me feel reconnected to the world and optimistic. :) Well done, David Levithan, and I look forward to hearing you speak again.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a very enjoyable read, and the world building was amazing! I felt like I was there in the middle of the fairy tale/fantasy world with Agnieszka and her loved ones. Now, I want to know more about the Polish fairy tale it was based on! It was refreshing to read a YA novel with a plot not entirely based on romance, and the end had great twists to it. It's like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones with Girl Power. I don't want to say too much more and give it away, but…read it, please!

View all my reviews

Writing: My Six Word Memoir

Writing 
Makes waves, reaches stars and sunsets
(My own six word memoir)

In honor of my student teachers, past and present, who inspire me with their cool lesson plans, including six word memoirs

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why I Love Female Comic and YA Heroines

Right now, in preparation for my comprehensive exams and the Dragoncon YA literature panels, I am reading voraciously. I am an avid reader to begin with, but between my theoretical framework course this semester and my comps essays, I am going to be reading even more obsessively than usual. I know, that's scary, right? Friends and family, be warned ahead of time that you might have to drag me out of my cove and take me out for a glass of wine occasionally. I know I have often been the one to initiate social activities in the past, but I can feel that tide starting to shift a bit for the next two years….

That said, my reason for being obsessed with these comic and YA lit. stories about females with supernatural/magical powers is not only academic, but not personal.  For instance, I am currently reading the amazing novel Uprooted by Naomi Novik. The author has an interest in Polish fairy tales, and the academic in me wants to know which ones influenced the writing of this novel. The personal side of me completely relates to the protagonist, Agnieskza. At the start of the book, she thinks she is plain and ordinary compared to Kasia, her best friend. She is sure that the mysterious wizard known as "the Dragon" is going to choose Kasia, since she is beautiful and stands out in the crowd. But then, surprise, the wizard chooses Agnieskza, and I won't give any more away because I want you to read the book, but….her life completely turns around, and she becomes much better at asserting herself and taking charge. She also discovers that she has capabilities that she was not at all aware of.



I can relate to this character because first of all, I do not feel that I stand out in a crowd nearly as much as some members of my family. I do not have straight, perfect blond hair, I am not super thin, and I am not as academic inclined as either one of my parents, my sister, or my cousin. I am more charismatic once people get to know me, but I am not initially a charismatic powerhouse, and some members of my family are, or were while they were still alive. On the surface, I am pretty ordinary compared to the rest of my family, and I was definitely a plain Jane as a child. But then, two very pivotal moments in my life changed my self-perception.

The first was that at age 15, I had reconstructive jaw surgery. The surgery got rid of my rather large and excessive overbite, along with braces, and while I still didn't look like a beauty queen, I wasn't "ugly" either. I no longer felt the desire to wear an invisibility cloak. I was actually okay with letting people see me, in addition to hearing me. Friends who knew me before and after say they saw a change not only in my face, but also in my personality. It's sad that someone has to have reconstructive jaw surgery to feel normal, but that's what it took for me.

Then, in my early thirties, I…drumroll…went back for my Ph.D.! Honestly, there was a time in my life when I didn't think I would do this. I didn't think I was cut out for a Ph.D. program. Although I think I always had the potential for it, I don't think I was mature enough for it in my twenties. Some people are, and some aren't. I don't think I was. My time table is different from other people in my family who obtained Ph.D.'s, but I think we all did it at the right time for us and learned of some of our unrecognized potential.

So yes, I relate to Kamala Khan because she never thought that she, as a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey, would become the next Ms. Marvel. But she did, and she's becoming an even more awesome and bad ass superhero as the series evolves:


I think my mom and otter women of her generation would identify with Wonder Woman, the first big superhero who had her own comic. I give mad props to the women who were among the first female doctors, lawyers, professors, and educated women in general out there:



Women closer to my age tend to identify with Buffy and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would say I am Willow, the academic girl who evolves into a powerful witch. Others are Buffy, the girl with a rebellious streak who is sometimes misunderstood, but actually does really good things for people.  



And yet others will identify with the heroine Echo in another awesome book I just read, The Girl at Midnight. Echo, like many of these other female protagonists, realizes she is way more powerful than she realized: 


For me, getting a Ph.D. has helped me to realize research and writing potential that I never thought I had. I do need to credit the great mentors I've had at UGA, in all of my degrees, for helping me tap into it. Also, I had to learn to believe in myself. So, once at fifteen, and another time at around 33, I shape shifted, or changed into another version of myself that was better. I am not going to say "I became who I really was" because I'm beginning to believe that our identities are constantly in flux and that we should continue to grow and change throughout our lives.  

Everyone's story is different, and everyone's unforeseen potential is different. But if you have someone in your life who perceives himself or herself as ordinary, but actually has great potential, I hope he/she takes heart from some of these superhero stories. They remind us that we all have great gifts to contribute to the world, if we use them right.