Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I just feel it, man

I recently ran across an article on Masculine Jew's blog, and then the comment by Frum Single Female, which got me thinking.

Let's take the mitzvah of davening. You have two people, Reuven and Shimon.

Reuven says, "I love davening! It's one of the best ways to connect with Hashem and feel His presence. I know what all of the words mean. It's a fantastic mitzvah! What's that? Minyan today? Well, I really want to come. I want to daven and it means so much to me. But somehow I just never get to it. But I love davening."

Shimon says, "Well, I don't know what everything means. I just show up three times a day for minyan and daven."

Or take another example. You have two friends, Rachel and Leah.

You really care about Rachel. She's such an amazing person. But you only found out last week that she had a new baby a month ago. It's hard to keep in touch when you're far away, but you really care about her.
Then, Leah. You're carpooling with Leah so you get to hear about her life every day. Sometimes you call her up, just to check up on her. You wouldn't say she's your best friend, but you spend so much time with her.
But you adore your friend Rachel, you really do.

To some extent, I can understand this prioritization of feeling over action. Why? It allows us to separate the sinner from the sin. But at what point does the man who steals every day or make a living stealing get called a thief? Even though he really wishes he could get a job. Even though his parents trained him to be a thief and his uncle deeply hurt him.

Are we defined by our desires or our behavior? Who is responsible for these actions?  Which matters more, feeling or action? Which shows more clearly at what level you're at? What demonstrates your character more clearly?

 - Sparrow

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Club: Catcher in the Rye and As a Driven Leaf

Credit for this post goes to Altie. When she asked me to start a book club, I immediately remembered the first book I had to read for high school English class.

"Catcher in the Rye." This is for everyone who had to suffer along with me. 

Acher (Elisha ben Avuya) and Holden Caulfield. Or, as I like to think about it, "As a Driven Leaf" is the Jewish version of "Catcher in the "Rye." In both books, you have whiny, adolescent-type protagonists searching for inner meaning and truth while slowly exploding the world around them in a kvetchy, semi-random self-destructive way.
In case you can't tell, I've never liked either protagonist.  All that whining! Blech.

So why review? It's the books I don't like which are the most fun to write about.

Book Club: Persuasion and A Civil Campaign

Why? Well, ZP asked for a review of Persuasion by Jane Austen. I wanted to tie it into a book called A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. They actually have a fair amount to say to each other. I'm sorry it took so long for me to type this, but I read quickly and write slowly.

Here is the wikipedia for Persuasion. If you want full plot and summary and stuff, click there.Here is the wikipeida for A Civil Campaign. Go there for plot and spoilers.

Why Persuasion? Two reasons.
 I like Jane Austen and this is one of my more favorite ones. ZP suggested it. Suggestions for future reviews will definitely be considered.

Why A Civil Campaign? ACC, written by Lois McMaster Bujold,  is a sci-fi opera novel, billed as "A Comedy of Biology and Manners." It's like Jane Austen at PG 13 with heartbreak, mad science, get rich quick schemes, political intrigue, bad dates, weddings, explosions and it's hilarious.  ACC is #12 in a series and one of the best of that series. It isn't hard sci-fi. If you're looking for that, read Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Gordon R. Dickson, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony...

Now, these books can be read in any order - I did - this was the first one I read and then I just had to read the rest. It's that good. If you can though, please read in order. You'll get so much more out of them. I laughed and cried and made my little sister listen to quotes I pulled out of the book. Go read.

I just hope I can tackle them without giving too much away.

Persuasion is one of Jane Austen's more interesting novels. It stars an older heroine who is being given a second chance at love with a fellow she broke up with when much younger because of her aunt's telling her it was a bad idea.  What else? The heroine, Anne, is an awesome person, but not very good looking anymore. Her family is pretty much useless. Well meaning, but not very nice people.

In ACC, "Despite all his power, Lord Miles Vorkosigan can't win the hand of the beautiful Vor widow, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who is violently allergic to marriage as a result of her first exposure. But as Miles has learned from his career in the galactic covert ops, subterfuge is always an option. So he devises a cunning plan." (Goodreads). Let me put it this way: "General Romeo Vorkosigan, the one man strike force" (lifted straight from the book).

Now, what do these books have to say to each other?

Well, firstly, they're about older characters who are falling in love. Most of the novels I've seen (with a few exceptions) star young twenty-somethings. Anne, heroine of Persuasion, is twenty-seven. Now, for those of you who are saying: get real! I've gotta say: in 19th century England.
So picture an unmarried girl of twenty-seven in a Chassidic or very right wing Orthodox community. Not only that, but as an unmarried girl she can't really be independent. Anne is staying with various relatives as a poor relation. Hero, on the other hand, is a rich captain in the navy. 

In ACC, the hero, Miles is thirty nine and the heroine, Ekaterin is about that age also. Miles is a veteran of past relationships (All's fair in love and war...) and Ekaterin is the survivor of an abusive marriage with a nine year old boy, staying with her relatives as a poor relation. Miles is the oldest son of an aristocratic family. They first met three months ago and during that book Ekaterin's first husband died, mourned by very few individuals.

It starts there...

What else? Persuasion raises issues about being married and why do you get married and what you look for in someone that you're getting married to. For instance, is it better to marry someone who's stubborn and opinionated or someone who's flexible? Why do you marry? Do you marry to become independent, for money, position, deep and lasting affection? What is love, anyway?

ACC raises questions about marriage and mistakes. Is a marriage ever a mistake? If we'd met earlier, could we have gotten married then? What makes a good marriage? How do you figure it out? How do you get kids involved? Does age affect anything? What do you gain from past relationships? How do you handle baggage? What defines marriage? Not only that, but it also examines some really fascinating gender roles.

What I find really interesting is that both books revolve around courtship and the process of discovering and admitting to love. What really drives the first part of each book is dishonesty or misunderstanding between the courter and courted. What opens up the resolution? A letter of apology. Honesty between the hero and heroine. The hero's ability to stop lying to himself and the young lady. The heroine's ability to forgive and overlook old hurts and misunderstandings.  A fantastic cast of supporting characters and subplots.

At the heart of both books? Honesty, forgiveness, trust, laughter, and love. Enjoy!

Any other recommendations?

- Sparrow

Monday, June 11, 2012

You have the right to...

Remain silent? Nah, it's a blog! You have every right to comment. In fact, I really, truly, deeply, Jewish star my heart and hope to fly you do!

You have every right to think. In fact, I hope you're using at least 12% of that gray matter.

More than that, you have every right to read and learn and search for information.

This past shabbat was a study in culture shock and in information. I went to shalosh seudot in a Satmar community.   The point, though, is that family and myself wound up talking with this nice Satmar family about the Internet Asifa.  Yep, we wound up on opposite sides of the argument. I think we managed to connect with the analogy of clothes.

If a store is selling some clothes that are objectionable, do you completely avoid it? No, you have to be able to tell which clothes are to be worn and which are not. Similar to the internet. You have to be your own filter. If you rely on the filter of others, you will just lose out on some really good information that the filter screens out by mistake.

Even more than this, books. "Where they have burned books, they ultimately will also burn people." (Heinrich Heine). Forget the burning.
Where they have banned books, they ultimately will also ban people. And it's a short step and a slippery slope from the banning to the burning. Look at the Rambam.

Now, it's fine if you want to say: this book is no good, and it has things no good person should be reading about and I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole!
But once you start to say: this book is no good, and no good person should read it, so how dare you read it!
You can get: This book is evil and we should completely prevent others from reading it!

 For those who say, "well, what about in school? Should kids in school be reading books like this?" I have to say, maaaaybe. It depends on the mission statement of the school. It depends on the background of the kids. It depends on the parents of the kids. ZP recently brought home to me that teachers aren't usually able to teach what they'd like.

 Now, ZP mentioned the other week in a comment, " The important thing is if a topic is being introduced, it needs to be presented and addressed properly. I am all about encouraging questioning and critical thinking, but answers need to be provided for."

Here's the problem, though. It really is only a short step from banning books to banning people. Some of the brightest apikorsim I've met are the ones who got kicked out of the yeshiva for asking questions. Now, as far as I know, those minds are lost to Halacha. And that's a crying shame.

If you're a teacher please, please, please don't shut down the kids asking questions you don't like. Ask to talk to them about it after class if you don't want it in the classroom, but don't shut them down. You may be shutting them down from being religious.

Another problem? When you try to say something doesn't exist because you find the content offensive, it just keeps popping up more and more strongly. The forbidden fruit tastes sweetest. Not only that, but blocking others from access just leads to rebellion.

So what happens if the answers reached aren't the ones you were trying to teach? What do you do then?

What do you do if your child is reading something very inappropriate? What if your child is trying to take that book out of the library? What if they're on an inappropriate website? What if they're saying something on a blog?

 What do you do?  Why?

- Sparrow

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games

Bet you haven't seen those three together yet, huh? If I've lost the bet, oh well.

I just finished the first book of Hunger Games. Yep, I know, way behind. I'm hunting for the next two but they've been checked out. I actually think all three works have something to say to each other. That all three mark how our generation has grown up and speak to different issues.

Harry Potter was us hitting adolescence, Twilight marks us hitting romance and Hunger Games? Finally growing up and looking back at the world.

Harry Potter, great series and captured the imaginations of children (and children at heart) everywhere. It's not the best written Young Adult novel I've ever met to deal with the themes it tackles, but is really gripping. Why?
 It deals with growing up,and moving on, and just not fitting into the world you're born into. Harry Potter, as much as it's about a boy and his two friends having adventures and defeating He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named is about us, too. It's about friends, and it's cool to be a smart chick, and self-sacrifice and finding magic not in words or in spells, but in the people around you. It's also about taking some really complicated issues and boiling them down to a simple conflict of good vs. evil, then building them back up again so we can face them. It's about issues and questions and and learning. Most of all, it's about wonder.
Why is Snape so many people's favorite character? Why does Draco Malfoy only get really interesting in the last two books? Because they aren't simply "evil" characters, they're finally being developed.
Why do you think the new My Little Pony is such a runaway success?

Twilight? Twilight is about the scary, unforgiving and too-memorable first romance you had. I read Twilight. I have a hate/love/AARGH! relationship with those books. (Another post, if anyone cares) Why has Twilight grabbed onto adolescentistas? One reason is because it takes romance and packages it without sex.
Our generation of young women, and young men, has grown up too aware of these areas. I think this has been one way of demanding the loss of the knowledge. This is a world where the hero desperately desires the heroine but will not act on it until after they're married no matter how much the heroine wants him to do so.
What does that sound like to you?
Yay for metaphors.

Now, the Hunger Games. Why am I not really bothered about books two and three? I think book one stands on its own as a complete story and doesn't need sequels.  This book isn't, really, about Twue Love, but about the idea of love and what shows love.  I think one reason this book has gripped so many is because it deals with a lot of issues USA youths have had to tackle.
1. Being in one of the wealthiest lands and having it all handed to them - while a good chunk of the rest of the world suffers dire poverty, and yes, hunger.
2. Having their issues marketed for entertainment on reality tv or elsewhere. For instance, marketing your own issues on blogs to attract readers. (Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...)
3. Having the one resource everyone covets: youth.  Most americans and particularly american women, are hungry to stay in their twenties forever. In some ways, it's nightmarish how entertainment and advertisements (particularly cosmetics) capitalize on this fact.
4. Celebrities are as much a product of their PR team as they are actually themselves.

So, we're looking at a young adult reading public that's been captivated by good vs evil, twue love, and massive societal issues. I think we're growing up.  What do you guys think? I'm up for criticism, discussion and debate.

Now, who's up for some really adult reading? Y'know, the kind of stuff every mature adult reads? That's right people, you've guessed it: DC comics 52, "Our Bodies, Our Souls" by Rebbetzin Heller and Starfist.
Summer break, I'm reading fun stuff.

- Sparrow