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Books read, early November - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early November [Nov. 16th, 2010|12:07 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Jim Butcher, Side Jobs. A collection of short stories in the Harry Dresden universe. I have some personal interest in a short story collection from a smartass hero's perspective, somehow. This was highly varied in quality, and Butcher made it clear in the intro to the first story that he was well aware of that in the first story's case. Less aware, I think, in the case of the final novella, which was from Murphy's perspective. I have occasionally referred to this as "the Murphy, Mouse, and Molly series" to indicate why I read it, and...well. I think he pulled off the story from Thomas's perspective. Murphy's not so much. Um. At all. I had fun with some of the stories, but...not really the Murphy one. (Also, major suspension of disbelief moment: a LARPer was wearing Prada heels. To LARP in. Really? Really? I...just, no. Prada knockoffs, maybe, if it was essential to the character. But real Prada? A LARPer? I had a very hard time with that.) (Yah, I know. But it's the little things. You're the storyteller: if you tell me for the duration of this story that there are three kinds of vampires and they hate each other, I'm fine with that; you get to set the rules on vampires. But the minute you're setting your story in a near analog of our world, you're trying to use preexisting rules as shorthand, and those can bite back.)

Charles de Lint, Muse and Reverie. Discussed elsewhere.

Jyouji Hayashi, The Ouroboros Wave. Discussed elsewhere.

William Hillcourt, The Scoutmaster's Handbook. Grandpa's. 1960 edition. I said I was going to read Grandpa's books, and I meant it; when a little dude I'm fond of said he wanted to be a Cub Scout and I started hearing about his first meeting, I thought I'd give this one a look. And oh, the differences. For one thing, I was struck by the completely neutral use of the word "gang." The handbook talks about how the natural organizational unit of boys is the gang, and it means it completely neutrally, as we would say "group" or "team." There is no hint of "street gang" or "gang of toughs"; this is in an era where "gang" without modification just as easily means "Hail, hail, the gang's all here" or "we're getting the whole gang together for a party." The recipes for things like "pork chow mein" are also culturally...quite instructive.

But one of the things that was really sad to me was how much autonomy the boys were assumed to have. Granted, these were Boy Scouts--starting at age 11--not Cub Scouts. But my little friend is not allowed to attend his meetings without a parent in tow every time. Contrast this with the scoutmaster's handbook of 1960, that says that the boys should get to plan their own fun, and that if the scoutmaster has to get out of his armchair too much in the planning meetings, he's doing it wrong. It seemed like a sad progression to me. It represented not only the loss of kids' autonomy, but the fact that the people who most needed the group were the ones who would no longer have access to it. My little friend has not only the adults in his own family but also local "aunt" and "uncle" and other adult friends; if his parents couldn't take him to Cub Scouts, something could be arranged so that he could go. And if something couldn't be arranged, his parents or other adults could arrange to take him and some little buddies hiking or on some of the other outings that Cub Scouts would do. Because he has the people in his life who can provide the adult to come to every meeting, he can have Cub Scouts--and doesn't need it quite as much as his hypothetical classmate who doesn't have those adults. I know that Boy Scouting, like church groups, like everything else in our culture that gives adults access to children, has had abuse problems. I just think that we're trying to solve one problem and in the process exacerbating another, possibly even more widespread one. It's like being afraid that kids will be abducted and keeping them inside and then watching all sorts of secondary consequences pile up, like the diabetes rate and the fact that many of them have very little idea what to do with themselves in a forest or in some other kind of natural setting. You try to prevent active abuse, and you end up with kids who don't have functional relationships with adults who aren't their parents, and who don't have opportunities to do stuff in less formal settings and don't even know how that's supposed to go. And that's a really big hole in our culture, and I think the repercussions of that cultural shift will be messing with us for quite some time. And this one little handbook from fifty years ago is in some ways a shocking example of change. The good ways are, I think, fairly obvious to the people I socialize with. The bad ways not always so much so.

Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. This is the one that took up the lion's share of my reading for this fortnight. It's not one of Grandpa's. It's a bit more complicated than that. It's the book I got home from the bookstore and belatedly realized I'd bought because I'm not ready to be done buying books to share with Grandpa...even though Grandpa isn't around to read them with me any more. (Except, my mother noted when I said this to her, in my heart. Which is true.) This is the first of a three-volume biography. Spoiler for the last page: he becomes President of the United States. Sorry for those of you who wanted to wait and find out yourselves. It's a good biography--it feels like it's rattling along swiftly--but Teddy Roosevelt did a lot of stuff, so you find that the rattling along swiftly has gotten you a hundred and fifty pages since you made your tea...and it's an eight hundred page bio and there are still two more volumes. This was, holy crud, a busy sort of man.

Housuke Nojiri, Rocket Girls. Discussed elsewhere.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sdowney
2010-11-16 06:52 pm (UTC)
I volunteer with the Boy Scout troop that my kids belong to. The Boy Scout program is very different than Cub Scouts, and there's still the ideal of 'Boy led, Boy run.'

In fact one of the problems we have is getting Moms to detach from their kids and let them do stuff by themselves. We have to be fairly firm at first that you sit over here, and your kid is going off over there.

There is some concern about abuse/child safety/etc, and leaders are required to take a short course in how to manage those problems. They amount to that no single adult should be alone with the kids.

Somethings have changed even since I was a kid in Scouts in the early 80's. The general fitness level is way down. I was a geeky, skinny, non-athletic kid. Classic nerd. My troop routinely did 10 mile backpacking trips. We did a 50 mile hike over the course of a week once a year in early summer(you weren't allowed to do that until you'd done a year of camping and hiking). A few weeks ago my troop did a 6 mile hike up to the highest point on Long Island (401 feet). Several of the boys had trouble keeping up with me, a middle aged man with a desk job.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-16 08:28 pm (UTC)
And that last bit about the fitness level concerns me, because it's entirely possible for people to get more fit in their adult lives, but it's not the way people necessarily trend, and it's not the easy direction to go.

(Also I think it's very easy for discussion of this sort of thing to devolve into discussion of weight, which is not my concern here. I don't want to talk about what the kids weigh, I want to talk about what they can do.)
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2010-11-16 11:52 pm (UTC)
re: adult fitness - I also wanted to comment that adults have a little more autonomy when it comes to fitness than kids do... if guardians aren't providing kids with opportunities where are they going to find them if they are constantly supervised?

I was kicked out of girl scouts in the 4th grade when I took the fall for a practical joke. Looking back I feel like I was singled out---and probably also dismissed from the troop---because my parents weren't able to be very involved. (They also never challenged the assumption that I was at fault or even asked me what happened.) And I agree with you... it's the kids who need it most who won't benefit if they always have to have a parent in tow.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-17 02:33 am (UTC)
I'm sadly not surprised that it wound up being the kid (or at least a kid) who had parents who were not able to be involved who wound up as the scapegoat in a group situation. I don't even mean that other parent volunteers would do that deliberately, because I would hope that in most situations they wouldn't. It's just that when some kids have an advocate and others don't, the results really do tend to come out uneven unless you're trying very hard. I know some Scout leaders like my mother did try very hard, but not all do.
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[User Picture]From: sdowney
2010-11-17 05:33 pm (UTC)
"'The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,' but that's the way to bet."
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2010-11-16 07:12 pm (UTC)
I have the problem of buying books to share with someone except that I'm not sure who that person is. I think sometimes the person changes. I realize that's not quite the same impulse (and I do not mean to be implying any sort of comparison, it's just this is the avenue you sent my mind careening down). I find myself sometimes buying and reading stuff with the mental knowledge that I want to compare notes and reactions on it with SOMEBODY. And it's somebody specific. I just can't usually figure out who.

In a semi-related story, I am curious whether you have any thoughts on the works of A. Lee Martinez. I read his Monster on a plane and liked it but it inspired some thoughts about unsympathetic and anti-heroes (in combination with another book I finished on that same trip, Glen David Gold's Sunnyside). I thought about writing the essay that was going to congeal from that, but I checked the impulse because I realized the only person I wanted to have the discussion with, in that particular case, was probably you.

I still have The Automatic Detective sitting in the plane-trip pile, but the nature of that pile implies it will have to wait for the next plane trip, and those are few and far between until the TSA is abolished.

In an unrelated story (yes, sorry, my brain is in Ramble today), I'm seriously considering investing in the first volume of the Mark Twain autobiography collection.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-16 08:10 pm (UTC)
The only A. Lee Martinez I've read is Gil's All Fright Diner, which, if I recall correctly, struck me as doing what it did reasonably enough, but what it did was not my sort of thing. Have not read Sunnyside and don't know anything about it. But would like to hear it anyway.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-16 08:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, and the minute I hit post I thought of what else:

I often I know who I want to talk to about various books. I think I'm lucky that way. Sometimes I have to wait for them to get around to it, but often if I get somebody a book for Christmas, their birthday, or Random Here's A Book Day, it's not because I'm a nice person, it's because I want to talk to them about the book. Some of the usual suspects include markgritter, timprov, my mom, alecaustin, porphyrin, dlandon, gaaldine, my mother-in-law, and unfortunately a bunch of people with less time to read and/or less habit of e-mailing me or talking to me.
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[User Picture]From: msisolak
2010-11-16 07:24 pm (UTC)
Really? Cubs have to have a parent at each meeting?! I hadn't heard anything about that--back up until the mid-90's, when my boys were working with Webelo den meetings, it wasn't like that. Yes, the parents showed up at the monthly pack meetings, but the dens were run or chaired by (typically) two parents, and the boys were dropped off for those weekly meetings.

If there is that requirement, it sure isn't on the BSA website. And my husband, who is running the Cub Scout recruitment for our district, hasn't said anything about that change. I'm wondering if it's specific to that pack and/or den, or if they just can't get the volunteers to run it.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-16 08:15 pm (UTC)
I think it's just the very first year of Cubs? I hope? But often it's easy for kids to feel like they're not "in on" something if everyone else has been doing it and they haven't.

Edited at 2010-11-16 08:16 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-11-16 09:25 pm (UTC)
My husband was a cub scout leader for five years, and it was always the rule that parents dropped the kids off and either left completely or zoned out in a corner with a cell phone or laptop. Because many of the kids were ADD/ADHD or plain spoiled, my husband had a hard time managing 12-14 hyperactive kids all by himself, and could have used an extra hand, sadly. Having one parent present and participating for each scout would be overkill, however.

Glen is now in boy scouts, and his troop is completely boy led. It is really inspiring. The boys run the meetings, plan all of the trips and outings, and camp outdoors at least once a month all year long. Older boys lead the younger boys, and the adult leaders provide guidance and advice. On the camping trips, the adults form a "stealth patrol" that camps separately from the boys and watches from afar. It's really neat. There are not many activities left where kids get to have that much autonomy.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-16 10:08 pm (UTC)
I am so very, very glad to hear that.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-11-17 07:16 am (UTC)
My main emotion when hearing about Boy Scouts is usually envy. As Girl Scouts we got to do *so much less* cool stuff, and I do hope that's something that has changed. I participated until I was old enough that we were running our own meetings, but we had a lot less camping out and outdoor skills even than my brother got in Cub Scouts. The year I went to GS camp I was in the Pioneer unit and even there I think we had a total of one hike with backpacks (I was so small I couldn't manage the whole distance with mine, but surely practice would have helped.) At least I did learn to kindle a fire there.

In one of his essays, Steven Jay Gould wrote about how Teddy Roosevelt actually wrote and published a scientific paper during a Presidential campaign - IIRC, debunking the idea that flamingoes' pink feathers are protective coloring meant to help them to be hard to see at sunset. Not too many modern candidates do that sort of thing.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-17 02:10 pm (UTC)
How sad; I had the opposite impression. That is, that Girl Scouts could do just as much of the camping stuff as they wanted, but that Girl Scouting did so much more range of stuff and Boy Scouting still did a lot more just outdoorsy stuff. I mean, I earned science and computer badges in the '80s. Maybe boys were doing that, too, but I sure wasn't hearing about it, just knots, knots, knots. I like knots. But once through the knots is good, and then I'm ready to go for the hike, volunteer at the nursing home, learn chemistry, and bake apple pies from scratch.

(This 1960 Scoutmaster's handbook was really keen on axework.)
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-11-17 02:34 pm (UTC)
I see your point, but I never felt like we learned much other stuff in Girl Scouts either. I suppose it depends a lot on the leadership. My mom was Brownie leader one year, but Mom isn't great at either outdoors stuff or crafts and anytihng she'd have tauhgt us in there would probably be stuff I'd learn from her anyway.

(Pretty sure there were no computer science badges in my GS years in the 1970s. I did have computer classes in grade school, but that was highly unusual at the time.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-17 02:38 pm (UTC)
It really does depend a lot on the leadership, especially in the younger years. As much as the 1960 handbook was talking about letting the boys lead and plan, there was definitely adult willingness to teach and transport involved even with that stuff.

My mom was our Brownie leader and later our Junior Girl Scout leader, and we did so much more than the other troop in our grade. There were some girls in the other troop who felt that it "wasn't fair," but we couldn't make their leader take them places or teach them stuff or let them do stuff. There's no really polite way to say, "I'm sorry all your moms suck, but I'm not sorry mine doesn't," when you're 32, but when you're 7, it's particularly hard to figure out the tact there.

And of course it wasn't all "suckiness" on not knowing stuff to teach them. But most of the taking us places was not a matter of money or anything like that where it was "fairness" of that sort. It really was that Mom and her co-leader Donna were willing to do research and put in the time hauling a van full of kids around, and the other leaders didn't want to do that.

Edited at 2010-11-17 02:40 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-11-17 02:55 pm (UTC)
In my mom's case, the problems were not suckiness but 1) no co-leader (that I remember), 2) a certain timidness in driving that meant she wasn't about to be hauling us too far afield and 3) a limited horizon - not a lack of willingness to do research but a lack of realization that the research was there to be done and the activities were there to be had. Maybe also because at the Brownies age, I don't remember doing much outside our normal meeting time (Friday afternoon after school) so big outings wouldn't really be feasible anyway.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-17 03:06 pm (UTC)
And that doesn't make a person a bad person. It does limit the experience.

I think there's a distinct difference between a situation where a person says, "I have two hours of a Friday afternoon with six to twelve small girls; what can I do with them within that time period?" and a situation where a person says, "I have charge of six to twelve small girls for limited periods this year; what can we do together that's awesome? Friday afternoons a plus." And a lot of people don't have the scope of experience to even know that the latter is possible. It doesn't even get to the stage of "we can't do that, it'd take too long/cost too much/require us to pack dinner/some other obstacle," because once you're thinking in those terms, you can sometimes get to the point of thinking, "wellll...if the girls were really excited about it maybe some of the parents wouldn't mind having the meeting go into Friday evening so they could have a date night to themselves," or, "there's a picnic grounds, we could take our own dinners at no great cost." But if that's completely outside your experience, you're just not thinking of the stuff in terms of awesome thing/obstacle. You're just not thinking of it at all.

And again, that didn't make your mom a bad person. It just meant that things were a lot more limited in scope.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-11-17 04:57 pm (UTC)
Exactly. My mother had a limited scope (less so now than then).
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[User Picture]From: sdowney
2010-11-17 05:52 pm (UTC)
There are merit badges in Computers, Nuclear Science, Astronomy, Chemistry... Also Cooking, Basketry, Leatherwork, Painting...

But when you're trying to get young boys interested, nothing really beats fire, knives, axes, rifles, shotguns and generally messing about in the outdoors.

Apple pies from scratch are a regular desert for the senior patrol on camp outs.

Community service, like volunteering at the nursing home, is also a requirement for rank advancement.

Some of the political positions the Boy Scouts of America have taken over the years have been, and continue to be, less than enlightened. But at the sharp end of the stick, it does a lot of good for individual boys.

Also girls (Venture Scouts), since the turn of the century.
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