Shopping is Hard! Let’s Do Math Instead!

Hi everyone!

Check out all the STANDING!  By himself!  Well, with an ottoman.  But STANDING!  Aren’t you impressed?

My post title, by the way, is a reference to this old talking Barbie doll that, as legend had it, said “Math is hard!  Let’s go shopping!”—and was quickly recalled by Mattel when lots of smart women protested.  Hilariously, though, as I was roaming the Internet searching for the quote, I found this news story from 1991.  Turns out a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization swapped the voice chips of several Barbies and G.I. Joes so the Barbies said “Vengeance is mine!” and the G.I. Joes said “Let’s plan our dream wedding!” before putting them back on the shelves to be bought by unsuspecting shoppers.  HA HA HA HA HA!  That is the greatest prank ever!  The people in the news clip seem to be taking it a liiiitle bit way too seriously, but it seems kind of genius to me.  I would have been psyched if Jonah accidentally wound up with either of those.

I love this time of year—the eggnog, the lights in the trees, the giving of presents (whee!)—although I must admit I don’t love the shopping part…so hard!  Which of these adorable species should I save for Jonah?  (I mean, if I’m going to give him a snuggly thing, why not pick a snuggly thing that helps the world at the same time?)  Does he need a hilarious walrus or a ferocious tiger or OMG A LOVABLE RED PANDA?  Or shouldn’t I pick this thing:


because HEE!  That mustache clearly must be saved from extinction!

My goodness.  And the baby is the easiest one to shop for!  Let’s not even discuss Dad-Dad-Dad!  (Who, as far as I can tell, wants batteries for Christmas.  SERIOUSLY?)

Of course everyone’s getting books, because that’s always where I start my shopping (and then (tip!) I go wander through all the pretty world-saving stuff at The Rainforest Site).  I hope all the books I’ve bought for them are good…this year I accidentally read a few TERRIBLE books, all of which were supposed to be awesome and notable and must-read-y.  I’ve been trying to write this blog about them all week, but it’s hard because I don’t want to call out the specific books by name, in case one day I meet the authors (plus that would be unnecessarily mean!  we’re trying to be a positive blog here, people!  unless I’m complaining about Crime and Punishment or Lost, of course…).

Also, I worry that I’ll criticize something which I could totally be accused of as well—I wouldn’t say my books are perfect, and I hope my writing is still improving.  So I’m not claiming to be more awesome than these authors in any way!  I’m just saying there are certain elements in these books which are not my cup of tea, and I hope I’m not, um, pouring similar tea into my own future books.  (<—Ingenious metaphor which makes total sense.)

So I’m going to be all general and vague about What I Learned for my own writing from these mysterious Terrible Books, and I’m sure that’s not going to annoy any of my readers at all.  ;-)  Sorry! 

Next year I need to be better about not finishing those books—you can usually tell a few chapters in if it’s not going to be for you, right?  Although sometimes you press on because you’re hoping the end will redeem it…not that I’ve ever actually met a book like that.  There are lots of books which start out awesome and then go bad, but I can’t think of any that start off bad and then suddenly get great.  Can you?

I was totally tricked by this one book which began all exciting and funny—I was like, oh FINALLY, a dystopian with a sense of humor—and then all the jokes vanished after chapter three, and relentlessly horrible things happened for the rest of the book, culminating in one of the saddest murders I’ve ever read, and OMG NOT OK, book!  If you’re going to be super-depressing, fine, but don’t lure me in with hilarity first!  I mean, seriously: a couple of the funniest moments I’ve ever read, followed by absolutely nothing funny at all for the next 400 pages.  WEIRD!

So Lesson One:  Just be funny all the way through, for goodness’ sakes.  (Well, OK, that’s how I like my books, anyway!)  🙂

Me too! 

Lesson Two:  Don’t be boring!  Oh my gosh, I was bored to tears by so many books this year.  People running across the countryside for pages on end, people sitting around talking about nothing because nothing was happening, people talking about themselves ad infinitum, predictable plots, and worse than that, no plots.  Short stories about physics, I think, although I gave up on that collection because nothing would change from the beginning to the end of each story and so, what was the point of that?

Almost all these books, by the way, were mostly “realistic” (and about evenly divided between adult and YA), meaning they couldn’t throw in a cool monster or a psychic friend or a hot time-traveler to make things more interesting halfway through.  Of course there are terrible supernatural books, too, but I’m just saying…there’s a reason I like writing that genre!  You have a lot more options for getting out of the boredom trap!

Addendum: It is not OK to get out of the boredom trap by revealing that the entire story was a dream, so who cares none of it mattered anyway.  BLERK.

Like, so totally lame.  Unless you’re Maurice Sendak, who is a genius and can do anything he wants!

Lesson Three:  Personally, my big reading turn-off is self-absorbed characters: characters who whine about their problems incessantly (particularly when their problems aren’t even that bad) and never think about their friends or family—especially when they are selfishly mean to people who just want to help, or innocent animals, or, very frequently, their own younger siblings (or children).

On the flip side, I adore the steadfastly loyal (usually meaning sidekick) characters most of all: the ones who will be there through thick and thin and Mordor (Sam Gamgee, dreamy sigh!) (yeah, you heard me).  Eugenides in the Attolia books.  Tacy in the Betsy-Tacy books.  Watson in any Sherlock Holmes adaptation.  Zoe on Firefly; Wallace and Mac on Veronica Mars.  Seward to Lincoln in real life.  Elizabeth to her sisters in Pride and Prejudice.  And weirdly, Damon in the Vampire Diaries, although I’ll admit there may be several dimensions to that particular crush.  😉

I want to write more characters like that, instead of another Whiny McSadPants.

Hmmm.  So, perhaps those aren’t the deepest writing lessons to have unearthed:  be funny, don’t be boring, write likable characters.  :-)  Tada!  I have Figured Out Writing!

I’m a likable character!

(Yes, you are, little bear.) 

Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that reading so many terrible books was worth it in some way…but I really hope I encounter fewer books like this next year!  So what should I read next?  I’m almost done with Carney’s House Party (a Betsy-Tacy spinoff), which is just as adorable as the others, and I’m halfway through The Book Thief, which is definitely not boring and has tremendously selfless, likable characters in it.  Waiting in the wings:  Water for Elephants, Emily of Deep Valley, The Tricksters, more Pern books, Shadow Divers, Ship Breaker, and, I hope, Unbroken and Finishing the Hat…surely I’ll love at least some of those, right?  🙂

And for those of you who are starting to suspect that this entire blog entry was just an excuse to post more baby photos…

Awwwwwww snuggly bear!

He’s much more of a trouper about the cold than I am!  (Incidentally, there’s an actual thing I learned this year—I always thought it was spelled “trooper” in that context, but it’s not!  According to the dictionary (and my sharp-eyed copyeditor), the ‘loyal and dependable’ definition only applies to the ‘trouper’ spelling!  Isn’t that fascinating?  If you’re an incorrigible word nerd, anyway?)  😉

I hope you’re all having a wonderful month and staying warm and drinking lots of cocoa or eggnog or mulled something-or-other!  And if you’re still shopping, like I am, I wish us both luck! 

Quote of the Day:
Jay:  Well, where was the last place you put your keys?
Gloria:  So now it’s my fault?  Where was the last place YOU put my keys?
Jay:  In your hand when I bought you the car.
Modern Family