Monday, January 27, 2020

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" at Arena Stage

Content warning: onstage traumatic miscarriage and pregnancy delivery, interpersonal violence, sounds of shelling, onstage bombing, onstage murder, onstage execution, onstage suicide

While I was aware of the source material I went in cold.
I think the play stands on its own, but it was pretty clear to me that they were moving through a lot of material.
The play takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan. While the program contains a brief history of Afghanistan, the timing of the start of the play is unclear. Kabul is experiencing rocket attacks, and as such, Laila and her parents are packing up to go. Her childhood friend's family left a few days before.
The house is shelled and Laila is the only survivor, rescued by a neighbor who then suggests he become his second wife.
She agrees quickly. Book readers likely had access to her reasoning, playgoers will have to wait some time to find out why. Mariam and Laila are at odds, until Laila intervenes to stop Rasheed from beating Mariam. Then they become close. Laila begins telling others Mariam is her mother. Again, book readers might have more insight on this. As the rules and requirements in Afghanistan shifted and changed, as Laila births a daughter and then a son, it was clear why she worried, why she dreamed of escape, and why of course she wanted Mariam with her.
I don't know if the rules and traditions surrounding first and second wives changed, or if there was strategy, honor, and/or love in her choice to refer to Mariam as her mother. It's a small detail, but emblematic to me of some of the things that can be lost in adaptations. 
Similarly, as the women must wear burkas, they flipped them up on stage, when talking. I confess, burka etiquette is not my wheelhouse, but it seemed a choice designed for the audience. As such, it made it hard to understand, until the characters explicitly said so that Laila later commits a breach of etiquette.
While the content warning list is a lot, I do want to stress, that the violence, while often surprising, is never gory. In fact that implied on stage blood meant you had to intuit the extent of the character's injuries by their post beating movements.

The play attempts to cover a huge amount of time, the characters shift in age and the cast did a wonderful job of demonstrating the shifting ages and maturity. Having now read the summary of the book, it appears the play collapses time a bit, using some flashbacks to narrow the focus. Also, theater age is a fleeting thing, but it was hard to tell that Rasheed was supposed to be older than Mariam. Particular kudos to Mirian Katrib as Laila who is pregnant about half the play. Also, Justin Xavier Poydras played Zalmai the night I saw it.

I think the play will be slightly more successful for book fans, but certainly if you enjoy a quick run through about two woman becoming close in very difficult circumstances, and the choices and sacrifices they make for survival, this play does that.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. This post on how RWA's current issues are a warning to other groups was great.  I have some tiny quibbles with it's summary of the precipitating events, but it is accurate enough.  And in many ways it isn't the details, it's the resulting concerns that are truly at issue here. 
2. Some of the journalists arrested during the inauguration protests are suing claiming a violation of their first, fourth, and fifth amendment rights.  
3. Veronica Chambers, who wrote a YA I quite enjoyed among other things, wrote this piece about realizing that sometimes not wanting to end your vacation is a sign you are in a terrible work environment.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2019 Reading Tally

This is now my thirteenth year of tracking reading data.  Links to all of the many evolving and various previous years here
Total read: 143*.  Not a bad year, but not the highest.  6 were novellas. 
The earliest was from 2008.  74 from 2019. 54 from 2018
I read 115 distinct authors, 68 of which were new to me.  The new to me category seems a little odd, when you factor in it includes Michelle Obama, but I had not previously read her, so that is how we are counting.  
Kris Ripper's Queers of La Vista series made them my most read author this year, at 5.  
June and July were banner months with 22 each.  (It helps to have a bunch started. And then have some travel.)  
33 audio books, 110 were ebooks.  45 library books, some of which I already owned in another format or purchased later. 
17 non-fiction, but romance remains my number one at 69 (heh), and YA at 44.  73 contained diverse main characters or people, by my count at least 66 of these were ownvoices across one of the represented marginalizations, or were non-fiction.  
*I counted re-reads if I re-read the whole thing a didn't just skip to my favorite parts. Novellas released singly counted as one, anthologies counted as one.    
This year I tried talking about good reads quarterly to see if that would help me member things I loved in January at the end of the year.  And instead my top ten is now a top twenty.  Ooops.  
-The Hungry Hearts anthology - edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond has some great stories all set in a fictional town with a great batch of restaurants and food.  The stories range from sweet love stories, to ghosts and mobs and murder.  It will make you hungry and show how food is such a great connecting force.
-Blair Braverman's Welcome to the Goddamn Icecube is a travel memoir, looking at journeys to cold places.  But it was an interesting reminder of how so many travel memoirs are about folks who get to travel without worry.  Not always an easy read, but Braverman's frankness about the challenges of facing those moments where you know nothing has happened to you yet, but it might, and how tough that can be to communicate to others, made it a memoir that seemed truer to me than some others I have read.
-Jessie Mihalik's Polaris Rising was recommended to me several times before I finally decided to give it a shot.  Sci-fi is often far more interested in the bits of climate or the operation of space doors than I am.  Polaris Rising is for me, a delightful on the run, maybe my fellow prisoner wants to help me escape not just this ship, but the even bigger group chasing me story that just happens to involve interplanetary escape.  It was great.  I have marked the arrival of the next story on my book calendar.  
-Anna Zabo's Syncopation has a new band member joining after another leaves following a video being posted online making it look like the lead singer is violent.  It involves some kink and everything about the two characters love of music as they learned to appreciate each other was really wonderful
-Therese Beharrie's One Day to Fall - I loved this story of two somewhat cranky people who run into each other at the hospital and have to deal with altered family relationships and figuring out their new place and if they even have time to think smoochie thoughts at each other.  
-Caitlin Crews' A Baby to Bind His Bride - For those familiar with the Presents line, this is bonkers in the way of Presents in that a woman shows up at a commune to discover her husband who was presumed dead in the hopes of being like, cool, cool, please take your awful family back and I'll be on my way.  And then of course she ends up pregnant and they have to figure basically everything out.  There is some imprisonment, because Presents dudes are terribly controlling.  I felt the groveling balance made up for it, but YMMV.  
-Olivia Dade's Teach Me  - We read this for romance book group, and it was everything I had hoped for.  Full disclosure, I am friends with Dade.  This book about two teachers of a certain age navigating a shifting school year, divorce (more recent for him), and what it might mean if they fell in love was just delightful.  My angst meter is very broken.  But to me this felt low angst, there were career concerns, and of course, can I trust happy concerns, but this demonstration of mature people falling in love was a delight.  
-Claire Kann's If it Makes You Happy - I loved this Gilmore Girls-esque story of a young Black woman going to visit her grandmother for the summer, and ending up in a summer royalty situation where her ungirlfriend and her possible crush compete for her attention.  Warning: Her grandmother and others do participate in some fatphobic behavior.  She handles it well, but it is tough.  
-Aminah Mae Safi's Tell Me How You Really Feel - Also Gilmore Girls-esque, but if what you really wanted was Rory and Paris to be a enemies to girlfriends style couple.  Sana keeps firing the lead in her movie, so her film club advisor forces her to cast Rachel.  
-Ruby Lang's Playing House - I adored this story of two New York urban planners finding each other at various open houses and then discovering that maybe there is something there.  Sure, come for the real estate nerdery, but stay for the moment where a mom tells her kid in front of the siblings that they were right.  
-Tara Pammi's An Innocent to Tame the Italian - This is also a Presents, and also bonkers.  She hacks his system, he locates her and basically is like so now I need you to both patch my security and be my fake fiancee.  And off they go.  
-Becca Syme's Dear Writer You Need to Quit - Syme and I met when we both worked on a contest together, and I've admired her posts on how knowing yourself can lead you to better sort through the conflicting productivity advice out there.  She in this book, and in the Quitcast podcast focus on writers, but I think a lot of this advice works for other folks to.  
-Olivia Waite's The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics - This book did everything I had hoped for when Waite first announced a story with an embroiderer and an astronomer.  The ideas about who gets to be at the table, why it always looks like the women there are just listening, and what it means to face publicity.  
-Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert I read alongside Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz.  These two ended up pairing well together in that both were books about folks with chronic conditions and discussed how that changes and alters your relationships with others, and creates some additional angst when healthier folks in your life don't quite get it.  Enjoyed both a lot.  
-Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering took me a while to read, not because it wasn't great but because it created so many aha moments.  Parker looks at how some of the ways we create gathering work at cross purpose to the event we wish to create and how to dig deeper on that.  
-Angie Thomas' On the Come Up - I started out reading this and then switched to audio (thanks, library!) and found I really liked listening to it.  All respect to the reader, I'm not sure she has a career ahead in rap, but it helped to animate those sections.  The story is about Bri, who feels like the least helpful member of her struggling family, and is focused on making it big as a rapper so she can change that.  Angie Thomas writes some of the best, layered sibling relationships.  It was also a really modern look at the choices we make about living up to or defying stereotypes.  
-Rachel Spangler's Edge of Glory - This is the story of two winter Olympians, a skiier and a snowboarder.  It is a slow burn, but also just a really great look at two athletes who do not have time to be distracted, unless of course, they just are.  
-Sara Rees Brennan's In Other Lands - Speaking of riffing off other fantasy tropes, this book made me exceedingly happy as it poked fun at literally every thing I have ever whined about in fantasy.  The main character is super snarky and barges into everything, so you have to be willing to go with that, but I snickered and texted someone halfway through that they had to read it.  
-Kris Ripper's Gays of Our Lives - This is the first in a series about a small California town that has an active and social LGBTQ community.  This story features the classic grumpy hero and the ball of sunshine hero, and I just adored it to pieces.  And immediately bought the next one.  
-Mia Garcia's The Resolutions - I read this in one day, specifically New Year's Day.  This book is a wonderful story about four friends who decide to make each other's resolutions.  And one of the characters is so clearly struggling with the burden of living up to this, all while smiling and telling everyone that everything is fine, that I do not think I could have read this over a few days and not really been mad at everyone.  So, for me, the one day read was the way to go.  It does all get resolved and the journey was well worth it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Three Interesting Things

1. It's not news at this point that the Oscars are white, but I appreciated this discussion from several pop culture writers about what it is that the Oscars reward and what it is that the Oscars seem to think is not really hard work.  As has been discussed elsewhere, there's still a huge pipeline problem to address, but we are also seeing a awards dismissal of some of the things that get through the pipeline and that's worth considering also.  
2. Lana Condor talked with Teen Vogue about this year of incredible attention and balancing that double edged sword of fame. 
3. This look into the making of a Harlequin Romance cover was enjoyable. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Podcastery in 2019

I find these annual posts useful for me, so here we go again.  In 2016, I wrote about my extensive podcast listening. I revisited changes in 2018 and 2019. I am not going through podcasts at the same rate that I used to, but haven't quite unsubscribed as much as I should, so I am often months behind.  + to indicate new ones.

Writing: 
88 Cups of Tea with Yin Chang - Discussions of books and writing.  (Female host.)
How Do You Write - A look at writing process.  (Female host, varying guests.)
Literaticast - Discussion of Kidlit publishing (Female host, rotating guests)  
Minorities in Publishing - Interviews with Minority folks in publishing.  (Female host.) 
Writing Excuses - A panel of writers (mostly book, some comic) discuss writing (Three males and a female are the main hosts. Rotating hosts added each year.)
+The Quitcast - Becca Syme talks about how writers can lean in to their own strengths to determine what processes work for them and what they need to quit.  (Female host, rotating guests.)

Current Events: 
1A - NPR current events (Male Host)
Fortune Favors the Bold - A highly sponsored podcast, but stories about evaluating our relationship with money.  (Hosts shift year to year, so far both female - varying guests.)
Freakonomics Radio - The folks behind Freakonomics look at things through, well, a Freakonomics lens. (Main hosts male)
It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders - weekly roundups and one on one interviews. (Male host, varying guests.) 
The Kojo Nnamdi Show - Current events in DC and beyond (Male host)  
On the Media - a weekly review of the news media (Female and male hosts, varying contributors)
Up First - Short NPR recap of the morning's news  (Female and male host, varying contributors)

Pop Culture:
Let's Go Steal a Podcast - an episode by episode review of "Leverage" which has occasionally included me. (Female host, rotating co-hosts.)
+Lost in the Smithsonian with Aasiv Mandvi - Limited series looking at ten specific items in the museum and their background.  (Male host, varying guests)
Pop Culture Happy Hour - Four panelists discuss pop culture. (Main contributors contain a female, and two males)
West Wing Weekly - Discussion of "The West Wing". (Two male hosts)

Sports:
30 for 30 Podcasts - Sports documentaries (Male host, rotating guests)  

Trivia, Knowledge, and other Minutiae: 
Ask Me Another - Humorous quiz show from NPR with weekly guests. (Female host, male house musician.)
Function with Anil Dash - How technology affects our culture (Male host.)
Invisibilia - A look a the things behind human behavior (Two female hosts)
Nerdette - Two self-described Nerdette's discuss stories of interest to those of us with a nerdy bent. (Female hosts, although for the TV recaps they are regularly joined by a male.) 
Song Exploder - the history behind a song.  (Female host for much of 2019)
Radiolab - Stories that look at the intersection between science, philosophy, and the human experience. (Male hosts.)
Wait Wait Don't Tell Me - Humorous current event quiz show (Male host, varying panelists.)

Real Life Stories: 
Criminal - Deep dive into a particular crime.  (Female host, varying contributors.)
Ear Hustle - Life in and after prison (Female and male host, male experts)  
Judge John Hodgeman - Real people bring their real issues to fake internet court. (Male host.)
Radio Diaries - is a pretty accurate title really. (Varying contributors)
Snap Judgement - Stories about life, again usually with a common theme. (Male host, varying contributors.)
This American Life - Stories about life, usually with a common theme. (Main host male, contributors vary weekly.)
This is Love - Stories about how humans show up for each other. (Female host, varying subjects.) 
Tiny Spark - A look at philanthropic efforts and other attempts at making good. (Female host)
+White Lies - Limited run podcast looking at the murder of Rev. James Reeb in 1965 in Selma. Alabama.  (Male hosts)

Other podcasts: 
Code Switch - Discussions of race and news (Male and female main hosts, varying contributors). 
+Dish City - Discussions of DC food traditions and the history and meaning (Male and female host, varying guests). 
+Iditapod - Yeah, it's about the Iditarod so a lot about dogs and poop and snow.  (Male hosts, varying guests.) 
+Podcast for a Just World - This is put out by the UCC, so very Jesusy, but a discussion of how the goals of faith intersect with the goals of justice.
Sporkful - A look at food traditions.  (Male host.)
+The Stakes - Looking at social change and it's impact.  (Male host, varying contributors.) 

Sampled - All of these I liked they just didn't survive the cut when my podcastery got out of control
Delete UR Account - Current Events (Male and Female hosts) - Amusingly this was on my sampled list last year, and I am still regularly sampling it.  So, not sure when I will admit I basically listen to this.  But here we are. 
UnF*ck Your Brain - A podcast aimed at high achieving women who feel held back by their brain. (Female host) - this one got bumped down to sampled, I still enjoy it but focused on others. 

Cut or Podcast Ended: 
2 Dope Queens - Comedy and comic bits talking about sex, romance, race, and hair.  (Two female hosts, varying guests). - On extended hiatus
Serial - You may have heard of this one, from the This American Life people, stories that take place over multiple episodes.  (Main host female) - currently on hiatus 
+Smarty Pants Book Marketing Podcast - It did what the title says, talked about marketing.  (Female hosts, varying guests.) - Podcast has now ended.  
Planet Money - Stories told through an economic/financial lens - Not enough time
Offshore - Stories from Hawaii Public Radio about the non-touristy bits of Hawaii (Female Host) - On extended hiatus 
Wanna Be - A podcast about personal and professional development. (Female host.) - On extended hiatus