Timothy Zahn and my Star Wars obsession

Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite books of all time:

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For those Star Wars obsessed individuals among my readers, you likely easily recognized The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. What you may not know is that this is the trilogy that relaunched the Expanded Universe. Without Timothy Zahn and his incredible ability to evoke the heart of Star Wars while injecting much needed life in the form of unique new characters, I’m not sure what Star Wars fandom would be today. We might not have even had any of the other content that has come out since the early 1990s. Indeed, we might not even have the die-hard fans our fandom has. I say this because for many, me included, it was the Expanded Universe novels that solidified and fed our love of Star Wars when there was nothing else new out there. Fun fact: We also wouldn’t actually know that the name of the planet that housed the Imperial Center was Coruscant if Zahn hadn’t dreamed up the name (See “Legends” Wookieepedia page for “Coruscant,”and scroll to “Behind the Scenes” – I’m not making this up!).

So when a friend told me Zahn would be attending two panels at a local science fiction convention, I knew I had to go. I gathered the hallowed above paperbacks from their honored place on my fiction bookshelf to be signed. (Yes I have a whole other bookshelf for nonfiction.) And then I spent several days freaking out. Continue reading

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Reading women: A self-evaluation

Get lists of women authors from the staff at the New Jersey City University library.

Get lists of women authors from the staff at the New Jersey City University library.

After cobbling together a reading challenge for myself for 2016 (I smooshed together different aspects from these reading challenges suggested by Bustle), I created a “women authors” category on my Goodreads profile to help me track that category of books. I was sorely disappointed in myself to learn that only 28% of the books I’ve read were written by women (keeping in mind that I didn’t consistently track the books I’ve read until a few years ago), and most of those have been in the last two years. Considering how many women there are in the world, that’s a dismally low number. According to The World Bank, the number is 50.4% in the United States, which is where most of the authors I read are from. Australia and Great Britain are the only two other home countries for the majority of my authors, and they have similar numbers. But the lack of geographic diversity in my reading is a whole other disparity that deserves its own post, which has luckily already been written by someone more talented than I: Reading More Translated Books Will Make You A Better Person by Rachel Cardasco on BookRiot.

But getting back to women authors. Here are some thoughts that tagging all the books written by women I’ve read brought up:

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Enjoying a reference high

A recent reference interaction taught me a valuable lesson last week. That’s the wonder of working in a library: While there are inevitably the same interactions, there is always something new to challenge you. Mixing the familiarity and comfort of answering the same questions with the adrenaline rush of magically discovering the answer to an impossible question gives me perfect job satisfaction. Here is an example of an “impossible” reference interview:

Sometimes you have to remember to say yes, even if you doubt yourself.

When I answered the phone at the desk, a panicked voice explained that she had been surfing various government websites hunting for a very precise bit of information to no avail. Starting at 9 a.m. that morning, she had been trying to find “the percentage of rural population in each county of West Virginia.” She began with Census.gov, futilely browsing it for two hours before giving up and searching on Google, where she found four different definitions of “rural” and no hard population numbers. By 6 p.m. she was thoroughly frustrated but still desperate to get a crucial piece of evidence for her work.
When she first asked me to help her, I was sure I couldn’t find it. While I had learned to use Census.gov earlier, the site had been redesigned, and it wasn’t what I would call user-friendly. My first hunch was just to say no. And then I pushed past the doubt and starting looking through Census.gov, starting with what I thought would be the easiest question: The definition of rural vs. urban. I shared the page I discovered with her and then we read it together. (None of the four websites she had found through Google had the federal definition correct).
Then I pointed out that a linked page held other links to Excel spreadsheets from the 2010 census that referenced rural and urban populations. Elated, she opened the spreadsheet and I heard her groan. I loaded a copy myself and realized it was massive and hard to decipher. I stayed on the line and talked her through pinpointing the relevant columns and rows and how to hide the irrelevant rows so she could print it out and have a two-page hard copy (instead of dozens of useless pages) to better understand the numbers.
From the panic and despair to the final excitement of finding the answer, I couldn’t help grinning like an idiot as she thanked me and we said our goodbyes.
The experience was awesome! The only way I can describe it is as “experiencing a reference high.” She was so happy she was gushing over the phone and I couldn’t help smiling and thanking her for challenging me. For the rest of the day, I would think about the feeling of helping her and start grinning like a fool again. What was my lesson? Doubt can remind you of your limitations, but it should never stop you from trying your best.

Finding the link: Fangirls and feminists

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again: I’m a fangirl. My fandoms are many and varied, but I am passionate about each and everyone. And that’s all it means to be a fangirl: To be a person who identifies as female and to have a deep passion for…something. For me that is a variety of books, movies and television shows. And I shouldn’t have to feel the need to defend that passion, nor should the term fangirl be a negative adjective. Unfortunately, it is often used that way. Sam Maggs says “No more!” in The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxywhich I received a preview of from NetGalley. As Maggs explains, when someone questions your undying love for Star Wars (or Harry Potter, Tolkien, Star Trek, Firefly, etc., etc., etc.): 

“Remind them (and yourself!) that throughout history, the best kinds of literature – the ones that have survived the longest – are the books that touch people on a human level. Your fandoms are like that: fiction, no matter the form, allows you to live a thousand meaningful experiences and relationships that you could never have in real life. Getting invested in a fictional world means you have a wonderful imagination, a big heart, and the capacity for endless creativity. No one can say anything bad about that.” p. 39

But it’s not the fan part of fangirl that gets a bad rap. Often it’s the girl part. It’s a sad reality that boys/men letting their geek flag fly face less popular resistance compared to the reaction when girls/women do the same thing. Granted, men who spend time in comic book shops (or other stereotypes like that) get to be the butt of more than a few jokes, even though they shouldn’t. Fanboys/men are generally awesome and fun to hang out with and shouldn’t be judged for their interests. But women not only get joked on from outside the geek community – as men do – but from within the geek community, as well, often from those same men that face prejudice from non-geeks. (Note: This is not true of everyone. The male geeks I have encountered have more often than not encouraged me when I expressed interest in a specific subset of geek culture.)

I have a confession: There has been a large chunk of my life in which I disliked feminism. I didn’t actively attack it. I treated it the same way I treat other things I didn’t want to deal with or didn’t support: I just ignored it. It’s not that I hate women, I just hate the big deal that is made out of girl power. Which I admit is kind of crazy, seeing as how I am a woman, I identify as such, and I admire powerful women, whether they be real, like Wendy Davis, or fictional, like Zoë Washburne. I like to believe we live in a society where we’ve moved past the need to point out that girls have power, too. It’s just a fact, or at least it was, in my worldview. Yes, I know this is naive and even lazy of me. And recent news stories have proved that my idealist view of the world is way off.  From the continued pay gap between men and women to the horrible Internet trolls that have attacked women for daring to be geeks have forced me to think about my own beliefs.

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Honoring one of the great guides to our imagination

When I started reading gobs and gobs of books as a child, a lot of people asked me if I wanted to be a writer. After a few months of introspection and a terribly failed attempt, I realized that I did not want to be a writer at all. At least not a writer of the kinds of books that I was so enamored with as a child. Promote library activities in press releases? Sure. Share my opinion of a few great books? Absolutely. But write one of those great books? Not a chance.

No, authors are a breed unto themselves, hallowed by all for letting us live in their heads, if only for a short time. They are gatekeepers and guides to the imagination. They safeguard the way, protecting it for all. And they provide guidance through the dangerous misty corners in which a hero’s adventures help us understand ourselves. If not for their skill with words and willingness to make visible the worlds they think up, our own imaginations would not be as full.

I have mentioned how I love science fiction, but I didn’t go in-depth into my love for fantasy. A genre that many think of as the other side of the science fiction coin, it’s no wonder that I love fantasy as much as science fiction. I also have a very specific taste: I want magic, I want fantastical beasts and I want that epic journey.

My first fantasy love was the great J.R.R. Tolkien. I read Lord of the Rings before The Hobbit because I was that kid who thought it was too much of a kid’s book to bother reading. Since then I’ve fallen head over heels into C.S. Lewis (who, might I add, also wrote one of my favorite science-fiction trilogies, The Space Trilogy), J.K. Rowling, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and, most of all, the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett.

If you’ve been abstaining from the Internet and all forms of news, you might not have heard that Pratchett, creator of the Discworld series among others, has died. According to news sources, he passed away today from complications related to a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s that he announced he had in 2008. There is much I could say about Pratchett, but I will instead send you to his good friend and author Neil Gaiman, whose grasp of the language and knowledge of the man far, far exceeds my own:

“He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light. And, hand in hand with the anger, like an angel and a demon walking into the sunset, there is love: for human beings, in all our fallibility; for treasured objects; for stories; and ultimately and in all things, love for human dignity.” (Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry, The Guardian, 24.09.2014).

I would add that if you haven’t read anything by Pratchett, please do. The sheer number of books in the Discworld series may be daunting, but any one of them is worth perusal. And then you will happily scale that mountain to continue to spend time in Pratchett’s beautiful mind.