Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December Book Club Report

Thirteen of us really enjoyed both reading and then discussing The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby, in December's 10-12 Book Club last week. Most people enjoyed the format (written as if it were a diary/class project assignment), the silly footnotes, and the story itself. The comment was made that these characters were compelling because they had particular, individual personalities, and all of them were interesting. And we all agreed that Normandy's sister was pretty heinous! Our conclusion was that we all wanted to go live in that town and go to that art school (even we elderly librarians, if we could get a second shot at high school). The book received a rating of 8.55 that included two perfect 10s and seven votes of 9! One of our highest ratings.

For January, the club is reading Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, a book long anticipated by some club members, just in time to get it read before the movie comes out.

In a somewhat stunning upset, we selected Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia, as our February book.

Other books we considered (in approximate descending order by popularity) included:

The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O'Brien
Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken
Heist Society, by Ally Carter
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Our next meeting is on Thursday, January 11.

Thirteen also met for 6+7 Book Club, and our book this month was Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, which had a much cooler reception. Although everyone thought the premise (a boy left hanging in midair in a plane whose pilot has had a heart attack and died) was compelling, many took issue with Paulsen's writing style, and felt like the events of the book were alternately too rushed and too slow. One person genuinely loved the book, and others were either in the "I admired it but it wasn't for me" camp or in the "I disliked this" group. Our final rating for the book was a solid 7.

Next month, we indulged ourselves by choosing the sequel to last month's book, so that we get to find out what happened to those crazy kids in Variant, by Robison Wells, by reading Feedback, the second book in the duology. No spoilers here, but people are really looking forward to this next episode.

For February, although there were many popular books in contention, ultimately none could beat out Cinder, by Marissa Meyer.

Other books we considered (in approximately descending order) were:

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor
Dream A Little Dream, by Kerstin Gier
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, by Lisa Papademetriou
Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card (someday, Kaleb)
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Our January meeting is on Tuesday, January 9.

8+9 Book Club comes up next week, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Honorable Mentions: Post #1

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is a story from one of our four writers who received an honorable mention:

Emotions and Their Meanings… to Martians
by Victoria Krohl, grade seven

It was a clear, crisp, day. Destined to be completely normal for some, desperately strange for others. And on this day, in the quiet little town of Bibury, in England, a starship has landed. In this starship, a Martian shapeshifter and his pilot have touched down to earth. These Martians, from the planet Xantiana, are an incredibly advanced species. With intelligence more advanced than any college scholar, their smarts match those of Albert Einstein, possibly surpassing him. While these creatures are incredibly advanced in mental capabilities, they have very little knowledge about emotions and psychology. For example, they know how to operate a complex surgery, but they do not understand why the person's family cries when he or she survives or dies. Some people could argue that this makes them cold-hearted killing machines, but they aren’t. They just don’t understand it. This is the Martian's mission: Observe the life forms on Earth, and how their emotions affect their lives.

The starship has landed and the gleaming silicon hatch opens. A creature steps out, its figure constantly changing. Never settling on one figure, you only catch glimpses of each thing before it changes to something else. Deer horns, chicken feet, snake tail, boar head, angel wings. The extremities keep changing. The creature walks forward, and waves goodbye to his pilot. The pilot waves back, and flies into hyperspace.

The creature looks at a gadget on his wrist. Very similar to a watch, it can tell time, but it also tells the Martian his location. It can also receive messages from his boss (it is kind of like a smart watch). Right now, the creature is in Bibury, England, on the continent of Europe. With a population of 627, and the nearest school, Bibury school, 0.5 miles away, the Martian starts to walk. It’s Monday, and the buzz of people greets the Martian's ears. The Martian quickly changes his figure to a 4-foot-11-inch tall 13-year-old boy with brownish-black hair, and hazel eyes. A yellow school bus comes rumbling around the corner, and kids get on in single file. The Martian gets on, sees everyone else has a backpack, and quickly materializes one. He finds a seat, and sits.

A guy walks over to the Martian and says “Hi, I’m Jax, can I sit here?” and without waiting for an answer, he sits and proceeds to greet a buddy.

“Hey man! How was your summer?” Jax calls out.

And the guy replies, “Boring, my parents took my phone away.”

“Aw man, that sucks. I’ll talk to you later.” Jax responds

“See you around. ”

More and more kids board the bus. Soon enough, the bus stops in front of a building, Bibury School. The kids file out and rush into the building. Noise and clamor ring through the halls. The Martian follows Jax and they walk into a classroom. When the teacher starts talking about classroom rules, the Martian knows he won’t find any information here. The Martian gets up and walks out of the classroom, and no one notices. He walks out of the school building, and quickly arrives at the town he started in. He walks around, overhearing bits and pieces of conversations.

Mom! I don’t want to!

I can’t believe it! I did it! Yeah!

No way!

But the conversation that confuses him the most is when he overhears a woman crying into the phone. He listens some more, and he finds out that the woman's grandmother has died. But why is she so sad? the Martian wonders. He keeps listening, and he hears the woman say, “Grandma meant everything to me. She taught me lessons I will never forget, and now she’s gone.”

The Martian keeps walking, and finds a bench and sits.

He starts to think.

“Maybe she’s crying because she feels gratitude toward her? Well, she was her family and if the grandma helped her live life to the fullest, maybe she feels indebted to her? Agh! This is confusing.”

The Martian gets up, and keeps walking. He walks to a park and he see little kids playing. A kid drops his ice cream cone, and starts to cry. This gets the martian thinking again.

“So he dropped his cone, and now he's crying. He’s crying because he was looking forward to eating his ice cream,and now it’s gone. So if the woman was the kid and the grandma the ice cream cone, the woman is sad because the ice cream (her grandma) is gone. But a woman wouldn’t bawl over an ice cream cone. She must be feeling a stronger emotion. What is that emotion?”

A stranger walks up to the Martian. “You look like you are in deep thought, young man. Care to clue me in?” the man asks.

“I’m thinking about emotions. I overheard someone crying on the phone about their grandma's death, and I don’t understand all of the emotions she’s feeling,” the Martian replies.

“Ah. Well, when someone dies, you feel all sorts of emotions. Grief, sadness, despair, love. And those are only so-” the man starts to reply.

“Oh! I got it! Thank you!” The Martian gets up and runs to a quiet spot.

The man mutters, “Well, that was a strange child, I didn’t even finish explaining.” He shrugs and walks away.

The Martian continues analyzing the information he’s just received. “So love is an emotion you feel toward someone else. Despair must be when you feel like nothing will ever be the same again? I think the boss will be satisfied with this information. Though I wish my time on Earth didn’t have to end.” All of a sudden, the Martian's watch buzzes.

"Martian 3x57678782, what is the status update on your mission?”

Do I tell him or do I not? the Martian thinks.

“Boss, I have not completed my mission. I am requesting more time.”

“Request granted.” the boss says, and the Martian smiles.

# # #

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Top Writers, Post #4

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is the last story from one of our four top writers:

My Trip to Hollywood
by Caleb Vaughan, grade 11

“How was your trip to Earth?” my friend asked me.

“I feel so lied to!” I said.

"Why?” asked my friend.

“Well, you know all those transmissions our planet has been getting, showing all of the cool things Earth has to offer?”

“I am familiar with them." he said.

“Well, I’ll tell you what happened!” I said “And boy, let me tell you, it was not pretty.”

"So I fly my ship to this place the inhabitants of Earth call Hollywood, the place all the transmissions have been coming from, and I land my ship next to what the humans call a Liquor Store.

“What’s that?” asked my friend.

“It’s a place where the humans buy liquor.”

“What’s liquor?” he asked.

“Not important to the story,” I said.

“Okay, Carry on.”

Okay, well, it should have been my first warning that things were not as they seemed when after entering said store and asking the clerk where the teleporter was, he looked at me like I was a loon. I had never seen such a dirty place as Earth, with garbage all over the ground, and smog in the air. I didn’t let it deter me, though, and I was still excited as I walked down a street called Hollywood Boulevard. The place was crowded with humans. Everywhere signs advertised Rent-A-Lamborghini, and Hollywood Tour Lines. I saw many of the beings shown in the transmissions: Han Solo, Captain America, Superman, heck, even SpongeBob showed up.

"Amazing how these celebrities just walk the streets like that!” I thought.

I wondered why they weren’t being hounded by the masses, who in fact looked like they were trying to avoid them altogether. On closer inspection, I also noticed that many of them had let themselves go. I went up to Captain Kirk, who was about 50 standard units heavier than he looked in the transmissions. I asked him about his inexplicable weight gain, but he told me “buzz off kid!” I couldn’t believe the honorable Captain Kirk of Starfleet would say such a thing!

Though shaken, I took a crowded, dirty bus to a place called Warner Bros. Studios. I went in and asked the guy at the front desk where the spaceships are docked.

“You mean the set pieces?” the guy said.

“What? What do you mean? I want to see the spaceships!”

“You mean the sets where we film the movies? There aren’t actually any ships,” he said.

I lost it.

“What do you mean no ships? Where are the ships?! The Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, the Serenity? Where are the teleporters? Where are the hover bikes? Your planet is nothing! It’s all meaningless!”

At this point I hear the guy calling for security and the next thing I knew, two thugs had thrown me out onto the curb of Olive Avenue. After all I went through, I got in there and it was all a fake! Fake, I tell you! A stupid hoax. I felt so betrayed; but looking back, what would you expect from a species that that is so incredibly primitive that they still think that digital watches are a neat idea?

I walked along aimlessly, thinking myself quite the fool, when I happened upon a nice little restaurant called Bob’s Big Boy, and after a hamburger and a shake (that I had to pay for with money, mind you--the humans are so primitive that they haven’t even gotten rid of cash yet) I felt a little better.

“I always knew there was something up with those transmissions,” said my friend. “They always seemed to work out for the humans in the end. I have never seen anything so lucky. Week after week they defeat some hostile race trying to take them over.”

“Well, I know that now,” I said.

I decided to make the best of it before I got out of there. So I went to a baseball game, something that is for some reason exciting for the humans' primitive minds. Then I went to the La Brea Tar Pits, a place documenting the evolution of human existence. They got so much of it wrong. The so-called smart Earthlings are the ones coming up with this stuff?

I took a bus back to where my ship was hiding, only to find that it had been broken into and the radio had been stolen. At this point I had given up. I hated Earth, I hated humanity, and I certainly hated the pit of lies and broken dreams that was Hollywood.

“No wonder they still haven’t developed warp speed yet!” I thought to myself as I took off. “They are so focused on making entertainment that they have totally lost sight of the big picture.”

After taking off and orbiting Earth a few times I had to wonder to myself. “Is this really what the whole place is like?”

“I don’t ever want to go back there again,” I said to my friend.

“Well, you probably won’t be able to, because when they build that new intergalactic superhighway, they are going to bulldoze right through the place,” he said.

To which I replied, “Good riddance.”

# # #

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Top Writers, Post #3

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is another story from one of our four top writers:

Elian the Being
by Gracie Miller, grade 6

March 2, 1984

I am Elian, I have traveled across the stars to study a planet called Earth. A few others of my species, called the Kryiomi, are assigned to report back to my home planet about the lifeforms that live on Earth. On the planet Quiod, there are many Kryiomi. We are very tall compared to the lifeforms on Earth. We have feathered wings, horns, and six eyes. Our ears are on the lower back part of our almond-shaped head, which is mostly scaly. We have long, thin, muscular arms, four long bony fingers with claws, and our bodies are covered in scales. Our long tails are covered in fur, and used as legs, although we hover in the air instead of walking or crawling on the ground like other civilizations.

I said goodbye to my family and friends, telling them I will return after a year of observation. Plans are to land in the savanna of Africa. I must not be seen by any lifeform, so I will have to shapeshift before I land. Once I landed, I quickly changed into an acacia tree. I can observe life-forms without being discovered this way.

I see a tan fur creature with brown spots, slender body, large paws, a tail and ears on the top of its head, I believe it’s called a cheetah. I see another creature, a gazelle I think, run over. The cheetah crouches down under the tall yellow grass, watching the gazelle. The gazelle looks around and without fear starts to eat the grass. The cheetah springs out and attempts to pounce on the gazelle, but the gazelle tries to slip away and the cheetah chases it. I can see in the distance the cheetah catches the gazelle and eats it. They are not friends. Next, I see a scaly creature called a pangolin, and an animal called a lion following behind it. As the lion attempts to attack it, the pangolin rolls up in a ball and defends itself. The scales cut the lion, but it still tries to eat the pangolin. Strange.

March 18, 1984

It’s been 16 days since my last update, and I have discovered the most dominate life-form, the elephant. I have decided to blend in with them and hopefully discover new things about this Earth. I had training back on Quiod that taught me to communicate with nearly every life-form on this planet, so communication will not be a problem. When no one is looking, I transform into an elephant. I follow the rest of the elephants to their home. I will report back in two weeks.

April 1, 1984

I have been studying the elephants for a while now, and have noticed that they are very friendly and social. Sadly, the horrible naked apes that walk on two legs have been killing these amazing creatures for their tusks. All of the other life-forms that live here know better, and stay far away from these massive creatures. They seem to know if they try to attack us, they will be trampled on. The Kryiomi are just barely larger than these elephants. I feel comfortable around them, and think that I fit in with them. I am not a leader or an outcast, so I can study them more easily.

April 20, 1984

Today, the elephants and I have gone to an oasis to get water. I notice a small animal stuck in between two rocks, I stop to help it with my trunk and tusks. The rest of the elephants walk on ahead as I try to help this poor creature, but then I hear something. It’s coming from behind me. I turn around and see several naked apes, and they have guns! Quickly I transform into my true form, and melt their guns. They run off screaming but I do not let them escape that easy. I use my telekinesis and pick them up in the air as they wail and beg for forgiveness. I pull them closer and using their language, I tell them to give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tear them apart, when they were about to hurt a creature that has done nothing to them. They promise to be good, and plead for forgiveness, so I drop them, and set them free. I look around to find that I am lost, and I cannot find the herd of elephants.

May 4, 1984

After wandering for weeks of searching, I finally join back up with the elephants and soon discover that one of the new young, has been poached. I have decided to get involved and find the naked apes that do these things, and kill them.

June 29, 1984

I found the poachers that killed the young, then realized that they are similar to the elephants. Turns out these naked apes have feelings, children, needs, and a sense of humor. I thought about killing them, but then I thought, wouldn’t that make me just like them? I have been living among these extraordinary creatures for about 3 ½ months, and have really grown accustomed to their life style.

August 2, 1984

My time here is soon to be over. Due to the death of our current ruler, the missions have been discontinued. I am going to leave soon. I am depressed about having to leave the elephants behind, and the fact that our ruler died, but I am also happy because I get to go home sooner.

September 1, 1984

Today I am ordered to leave this planet. I have decided not to go. I will miss the Kryiomis back on Quiod, but there is much work left to do. I am teaching my new Earth friends to be protective instead of attacking each other. This was my choice to make. I might visit Quiod again someday, but until then, this is Elian saying goodbye.

# # #

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What we're reading: A mesmerizing fantasy

I was poking around for something to read last weekend, and discovered a book called Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, sitting unread on my Kindle. As I recall, the way it got there was as a bargain offering from one of the e-book services to which I subscribe; I vaguely remember thinking, Oh, that sounds sort of intriguing, buying it for a whopping $1.99, and never thinking of it again!

I'm so glad it landed there, regardless of how; what an amazing, perfect little story it is! I know many people have great love for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, and while that book had a certain offbeat charm, this is the book that I thought it would be, and wished it had been. Other than the wonderful photographs in that book, I didn't love it; but Every Heart A Doorway took my breath away, telling the story that everyone wants to hear.

There are, throughout fiction, and particularly in the fairy tale tradition, so many stories of children who disappear, some never to return, while others go away for awhile and come back but are never quite the same. From the old chestnut "Rip Van Winkle" to the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett, from Brenna Yovanoff's changelings to the journeys into Faerie taken in Julie Kagawa's series, from the Chronicles of Narnia to Cornelia Funke's Mirrorworld books, the stories are perpetuated of strange worlds accessed by doors and windows and burrows and mirrors that lead somewhere.... But finally, in Every Heart A Doorway, we have the bringing together of a group of "the returned" to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school run by a schoolmistress who went away, herself, to another world when young and therefore can empathize with their plight, stranded back in this one. Bewildered parents try to get their blessedly restored children to behave as they used to, but the children spend all their time longing to go back to the worlds where they finally felt they belonged, and the desperate parents send them to Eleanor, hoping for a miracle. But they may not get the one they're wishing for....

This story was magical. Furthermore, the writing, the descriptions, the characters, and the mystery were all both lyrical and inspired. And although the description sounds old-fashioned, the telling of it is anything but: The message I liked the best is that there is no one way to be a girl, and there is no one way to love.

Why have I never heard of this author? She has apparently won multiple Hugo Awards and has written a slew of books, and I came upon her by sheer accident, only to be blown away.

The first thing I did as soon as I finished this book (which didn't take long--that's the only fault I have to find with these, is that they are more novellas than novels, because they are so short) is to immediately read the next book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. That book turned out to be a prequel, since it details what happened to two of the characters (twin girls) from the first book, immediately before that book started.

It was so, so good. Jack and Jill's background and their sojourn in the world of the moors dovetailed so nicely into the first story and was such a satisfying explanation of their behavior in that book. And even though both books are short (each under 200 pages!), they are (in my opinion, anyway) gems of perfection. There is a third book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, returning us to the boarding school, coming out in January, and I can hardly contain my impatience!

Please note, teens, that although the protagonists are teenagers, for some reason we never bought this series for our teen sections; you will find these two (and the book to come) in the adult Science Fiction section of the library. We also own the first book on audio. Definitely travel over to that section to check these out!

Monday, December 4, 2017


We had big fun on Thursday doing our Suminagashi paper marbling craft. We explored the various methods of creating patterns–the two-brush touch method that creates dozens (or hundreds if you have the patience) of concentric circles, vs. the dot method whereby you drop various colors onto small floating dots in the tank and watch the colors push the dots like little speedboats over the surface as they spread out. We tried alternating colors with soapy water in the concentric method to get clear circles among our colored ones. We used various implements, including self-created “rakes” made of fat straws with toothpicks stuck through them at one-inch intervals, and afro combs, as well as the opposite ends of our paintbrushes, to move the color around over the surface to create patterns. We tried out various papers and cardstocks, with varying rates of success.

On Friday, after the paper had dried out, everyone returned, and we followed a video on YouTube to make lovely gift bags out of our paper, and decorated them with handles made variously from rick-rack, ribbon, or pipe cleaners. Some people made bookmarks, also using ribbons, while others concentrated on making greeting cards, all different. We had planned to cover picture mats with the paper, wrapping and gluing them, but we took a risk, on Thursday, and dropped one of the picture mats directly into the marbling tank, and that worked so well that we didn’t bother with covering, we just dunked them all instead! We also tried making plain paper bags first and THEN marbling them, with some success, although coverage on the folded sides was problematic.

Over all, we had a great time, and everyone was immensely satisfied with this craft. We have plenty of inks, papers, and accessories left, and will definitely pull this one out for an encore sometime in the near future.

Because Anarda was out this week, Hubert acted as my able assistant, and did a great job of keeping things going with the crafts while I was occupied showing some new kids how to marbleize. The only thing that neither of us succeeded at very well was remembering to take photos, with the result that there are only eight or nine here on our Facebook page, and none of any of the gift bags! Oh well…as Scarlet says, “Tomorrow IS another day.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Top Writers: Post #2

For Teen Read Month, Burbank Public Library sponsored a writing contest, called "Stranger In A Strange Land." Here is another story from one of our four top writers:

A Planet of Suffering
by Katrina Darwich, grade 10

I don’t like this planet.

It’s too loud.

It’s too crowded.

It’s too confusing.

My planet is simple and quiet and tranquil.

But I am no longer on my planet.

I’m here on yours.

I was sent here five weeks ago, my trip taking 14 hours to complete. It was long, but I’d managed to amuse myself along the way to keep homesickness at bay. But now, I’m so homesick it hurts. I want to shift into my smallest form and just curl into a ball and never emerge. I can’t though, I have a reason for coming to this noisy, smelly, dizzying planet.

It was to look for lifeforms like you.

I was told to find intelligent lifeforms and report back on my findings. Honestly though, I’m not sure if intelligent was the right word. You have clever beings here, who are ahead of the rest on this planet. But compared to my people, you are all centuries behind. We are the future and you are the past, primitive and thick in comparison. 

But then again, we have a small population of our people who are stupid and completely senseless, making your geniuses look like geniuses. So really, who do we compare to you lifeforms? Do I compare our greatest scientists, our poor and stupid, or myself? Intelligence is difficult to compare, especially across two completely different species.

But despite having geniuses, you do not understand the simplest of things.

I landed in a small patch of untouched land in the middle of a bustling, screeching, rushing city in what I understand to be called a ‘park.’ How cruel of you beings to tease the creatures who believe their homes are untouched, when stepping a simple foot out of their grassy borders gets them killed. They think the world is still so big, when really, it has been clipped and shaved until there is scarcely enough room to breathe. Why not line them all up and run them all down with those thundering metal machines you all adore riding in? Why not suffocate them here and now with the poisonous fog that pours from your buildings as you make objects you will only throw away tomorrow? Why not poison them instead of lacing their water with wastes and discarded pastimes? Follow any method of execution that pleases your sick minds, but please, don’t torture them any longer. 

Don’t let them stare at their crippled, bleeding legs after one of your machines tramples them, don’t let them struggle for air for generations and cough blood until they cannot breathe, don’t let their insides burn and melt from the chemicals you so uncaringly tossed into their water supply, chemicals too strong for immunity yet too weak to bring a swift death. I have taken all of their forms, taken on all of their struggles and hardships in a matter of days. And I’ve found myself horrified by their pathetic existences. How strange that you all marvel and smile adoringly at the sight of them, yet turn a deaf ear to their laments of suffering.

But, you treat your own kind no better.

You laugh at the sight of another’s misery, even those you call family and friend. What a frivolous title indeed. On my planet, a friend is someone you treat with respect and love. They are family that do not share your blood. A family you build on your own. But here, friends are the people that share your hatreds. They despise the same things and people you do, and so you are united through your abhorrence. Friends on this planet both abuse and get abused. You call them derogatory names and treat them like dirt. And they do the same in return. And still you call one another friend. Friends lie and cheat and steal from one another here; at home my friends do not do that. When I am happy, they do not stare at me with spite or jealousy at my good fortune. They grin with honest pleasure and share in my joy. When I am stricken by grief they do not smirk and sigh with relief that they are not me. At home, they weep with me and share my sorrows. I lean on them, and they lean on me.

Reliable and trustworthy. On my planet, what you call friends are considered enemies. Rivals. Competitors. But not friends, that title is desecrated here beyond repair.

The word Family has no meaning here. Or rather, not the same as at home.

Family is unity and structure. It is what we all have to fall back on when times are difficult. Family looks out for one another and never abandons. They are there to protect, nurture, and provide wisdom that comes from years of experience. Family is blood and strong. It is what makes a society sturdy.

If that were true here, this planet would be consumed in flames of chaos.

All the families I have seen here are broken. Like a shattered vase, there is no way to fix them, not with so many important pieces gone and the rest in shards. Families on this planet are supposed to be made of two mates who protect and adore their progeny. In truth though, mates disappear or vanish with no desire to be found. And those who do stay become angry or hopeless or spiteful towards their offspring. Mothers that should care for their offspring run of with others, eyes glinting with lust for freedom, adventure and success. They never wanted to bear children. Not really anyway. Fathers that should protect their brood from predators become the greater dangers to their offspring. They beat them, they cuss at them, they bash their dreams with clubs of disappointment and wicked bats of hopelessness. The progeny are left to fend for themselves, left to scavenge for food and resources all on their own. Sometimes they grow tougher and hardened to the world. Others grow weaker, and succumb to the hopelessness that slices along their skin like hot blades, leaving wounds and burns that will never heal. They were crippled before they could ever run. They were blind before they could ever see. They would dead before they could ever live. The offspring make me saddest. They had no voice in the destruction of their future. Fate dealt them a cruel hand, and they were stuck playing that way for the rest of the game. No wonder so many of them cheat.

You are all bizarre to me, but what I find strangest, is how comfortable you are with taking your own life.

Life is a gift. Life is something scientific and magical all at once. Birth is a long, difficult process, many mothers do not survive it. And those who lose their offspring in the process are stricken by grief for the rest of their lives. So how come so many of you throw that gift away? Why do you swallow little white pills, put blades to your wrists and string yourself up so easily? 

Discarding the gift your parents puts into raising you? Especially the mothers who carry you, do you not think of their suffering? Don’t you consider the agony they must feel when you, their greatest achievement, are left dangling from a ceiling? Or lying face down in a bedroom? Or bleeding to death in the bath? You lament that you are so unwanted, that you’d be better off dead. That your mother had you by mistake. That your father never wanted you. That you were nothing more than baggage to the ones you loved. That you didn’t deserve to live. 

When really, if you didn’t deserve to live, wouldn’t you have been dead by now? If your parents had hated you so deeply, wouldn’t you have been forgotten completely? Wouldn’t their faces remain blank at the sight of you, their heads remain still at your cries? Surely if you made it this far, it was no mistake. My people and I worship Fate. It is not a religion, but a spiritual understanding. If you remain alive, if air still fills your lungs and you manage to change from form to form, surely Fate has some reason for you to live. We believe that if you trust in Fate long enough, and continue on your path, you will find the reason Fate kept you alive. Taking your life is interfering with Fate’s master plan, and therefore the many fates of those around you. It is taboo to take your life on my planet, because you carry so many ties along with you, ties put there by Fate. And only Fate decides when to snip away useless threads, or the threads that have already served their purpose.

I was told, when I left my home, that your species could only take one form. But now I realize that is not true. You may stay in the same shape and size, but you become different creatures when with different beings. You’re not the same when your with family, friends, strangers or animals. Or even by yourself. I saw a girl once, sixteen in age, and taking the form of a bird I followed her for one week. She would laugh and sing with her friends, becoming what you call ‘a social butterfly,’ only to shift forms when with strangers. Then, she would become quiet and polite, smiling faintly from under locks of dark hair. A fair doe, docile and innocent. Among those she called family her form would change once again, and she would become a second mother to her siblings, stern but attentive. A crocodile mother, guarding her offspring with a firm but understanding disposition. When she was alone, however, she became something practically unrecognizable. Longing and heartache etched themselves upon her face, and her eyes would grow deep with loneliness. Sadness held her captive, and her voice would never rise above a mutter. A weeping willow, bent by the stress and fear that rained down upon her like hail. She would never admit that she wished for things she could not have, or were forbidden to have. 

Never admit that she longed for so much more. But she had grown up learning to settle, to take what she had been given and be grateful for it, never asking for more. She had grown up taking whatever she could get and producing her finest, even if it made her ill. The girl would impress everyone with a persona of self assurance, when she really didn’t understand herself at all. 

I tried turning into one of you only once out of curiosity, but all the emotions that burn through you like hot metal--anger, spite, jealousy, passion, grief, confusion, fear--were too much for me to handle. I could scarcely stay in that form for more than a minute and had to change into something simple and quiet to regain my sanity. This confusion about one’s self frightened me. And frightened her as well. Was she her achievements, her faults, her likes and dislikes? Was she what friends made her out to be, or what her parents desired of her? I could understand this creature well, for us it is hard to find a form we truly like and can accept as our own. At least all of our forms look different. How are you to decide which form is truly you if they all look the same? It must take you all of your lives to decide on who you really are.

I was told to see if this planet was worthy of colonization (but not an invasion like you have done to the native people upon this land). A peaceful colonization of a few hundred of our species, to live and thrive and experiment on the elements that reside here.

But I must go back and tell them that it is not worth the trip or resources.

This planet is sad and broken, full of suffering life forms that cry for each other’s help and receive none of it. You are a very sad species; you all hurt so much, and never ask for each other’s help. You are all broken inside, scared of your neighbor and what you do not understand.

You can keep your planet, we do not want it. We are better off searching elsewhere. All I can do for your species is hope that you realize that you do not need to search for far off places to make new homes. The best thing you can do is better the one you already have. I must leave, and convince my people that this is not the place we are searching for. This is not the planet we want.

It’s too confusing.

It’s too crowded.

It’s too loud.

I do not like this planet.

# # #

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

8+9 Book Club Report for November

We met quite late in the month this time, which apparently was good, because it gave some of our readers the time to slog through the detail- and description-laden scene-setter of a steampunk, Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, while it gave the rest of our readers time to read it twice! Yes, the 19 gathered at book club on Tuesday night were about evenly divided between those who couldn't believe they were on page 200 and the two main characters still hadn't met up, and those who were delighted by every single word on those 200 pages and didn't really care. There were a few in the middle between love and hate, but we had quite the lively discussion determining who was whom, and why!

Some conclusions at which we arrived: Mohammed was overjoyed to read a book that, while it was alternate history, still dealt interestingly and rather realistically with a period he holds in esteem. Rhett maintained that this is one of the best series ever, (Laurelei J. and Brenden agreed) and he exhorted co-members to give the series a chance by reading books two and three. Maya, Nuné, and Katelyn (and perhaps Megan as well) were so bored and overwhelmed by the minutiae of the descriptions and the slow pacing that they could scarcely finish (and some didn't). Other Lorelei started out on their side, but eventually agreed to give the book a chance by finishing it. And the rest of the crew was pretty much agreed to say "meh." Some actually enjoyed the premise (Clankers vs. Darwinists) more than the execution; Kelly liked the details but not the lack of story; and Bella said the book would have been improved by more character development.

Our final rating, with a high of 10 (four people) and a low of two, was a 7.2.

Next month we return to romance, with Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before. (I predict Mohammed will rate it a "nein"!)

And January's book, after a squeaker of a vote, is Ink and Bone, the first in the Great Library series by Rachel Caine.

Other books we considered (some of which hotly contested our final choice):

Starflight, by Melissa Landers
     (sci fi about an indentured servant girl)
Trial by Fire, by Josephine Angelini (an alternate universe book with a creepy doppelgänger)
The Fixer, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (a spies and mystery book set in Washington, D.C.)
An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (a guy dates 13 girls named Katherine, who all dump him)

And some possible books to save for reading later in the year:

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

Our next meeting is on December 19. A reminder that this meeting will be held at the Central Library in the auditorium, because there was a conflict with the mystery book club for the storytime room.

See you then!