On Hiatus

aka: Stating the obvious.
aka: Getting real.

In a nutshell, I'm far too busy to do a long-form blog.  Work, union shenanigans, life and my need to wallow in unproductive not-blog related crapulence means that there's no way I can keep this up.

That said, I like Blogger & its format, I just don't have the time for it.

So I'm giving Tumblr a shot (Cue ominous music, eye rolls and hysterical mocking laughter).  The way I see it, I can chuck out a few micro-blogs every once in a while and keep people updated about my whatever in a more timely format.

I'm well aware of Tumblr's limitations and I don't like them either.

So until I return to Blogger, Your Shenanigans is temporarily relocated.



Having a toddler and blogging is hard work.  Especially when there are other considerations like job, house, family and whatever to take into account.  And then there's the actual interest and drive that one requires to actually write a blog.  I have the interest but not the drive.  By the time I get home from work, have dinner, spend time with Henry, put him to bed, do the dishes and/or tidy up enough so that Elisabeth will feel that I'm pulling my weight in a somewhat passable way, all I'm really thinking about is TV, internet, wine, video games, beer or some combination of the above.

Blogging just doesn't feel like the kind of fun escapism that I'm looking for largely because all by entries work in the following way:  I get an idea; start tapping away fueled by hate; attempt (generally unsuccessfully) to transfer that hate into humour and then get bogged down in the specifics of grammar or a particular word which I don't feel conveys the exact emotional meaning I'm trying to express.  Then I get distracted and by the time I get back to the entry in question (At which point 48-72 hours have passed), I realize that what I was writing was a parade of tirade which doesn't befit my demographic as I am neither a spotty teenager or a cantankerous old bastard.

Feel free to disagree with the latter.

With that in mind, I've set a series of New Years resolutions for myself, all of which are practical, boring and a secret so that come April, I'll be the only person out there who knows what an abject failure I am.  Suffice to say, a little blogging is on the menu.  With luck I'll be able to fart something out weekly.  At least that's the goal.  Come April, I'm sure the blog have collected a nice layer of dust..


And after a 6 week hiatus, it's a BOOK REVIEW.

Y'all must be so excited.

Bad Things by Michael Marshall.

Michael Marshall has written one great books (The Straw Men) though possibly (In my opinion), two (The Lonely Dead).  Everything else has been the kind of hit/miss smorgasbord that means I'll never actually seek out one of his novels but if I'm hard up for something to read, will check out his newest.

He's really great at starting books; throwing interesting characters at you, setting up horrific dilemmas, creating bizarre and engrossing mysteries that hook you, draw you in and then during the second act reveal the novel to be science fiction.  Or fantasy.  Or supernatural horror.  His recent reliance on this kind of deus ex machina has let me down as it gives him an easy way out from having to follow through with his really amazing set ups and by the third act, his last two books have used this to essentially cop out of something really great.

It was with this expectation that I went into Bad Things and, while it certainly was better at incorporating the sci-fi/supernatural stuff and engaging with the real world, it also felt kind of boring.  The second act just seemed to drag and I think that if 100 pages were shaved off, the book would tell a nasty little story of a man haunted by the sudden death of his son who returns to the quiet village where it happened and discovers the secrets of it's dark past.

The thing is, Michael Marshall has it in him to write really great thrillers I hope that soon he'll find his stride.  Overall, the entire book played like a humourless season of The League of Gentlemen.


A Touch of Bad Taste

On our anniversary, Elisabeth gave me Pablo Neruda's Residence on Earth.  I took it upon myself to read Henry Spain in Our Hearts, which is to me, the centrepiece of the whole book.  It's a beautiful poem, don't get me wrong but for the first time I felt uncomfortable reading something to Henry.  It was beyond the fact that for whatever reason he couldn't settle or get into the rhythm of the voice; it had to do with the horrible images of war, especially those of rivers of dead children's eyes floating in hell, gazing upon their killers face.  Such is war, however and, as many have expressed, anyone who glamorizes it encourages the acts of war.  This poem is a very harsh reminder about the reality of oppression, the resistance it will incur and the fate waiting for those who would put their greed above society's.

I'm more than happy to gently push my politics on my kid, without a context (In his brain), it felt weird reading him this.  If he understood any of it, I'm sure he didn't get the joyous contrast, after all the horror and war, of the Solar Ode to the Army of the People and not the floating eyeballs.

It was also the first time that Henry hasn't connected with a piece of writing.  Next up will be Rimbaud's Season in Hell with, hopefully, better results.

As and aside, I find it impossible to believe that Crass were not intimately with Neruda.  The repetition of phrases and imagery, as well as pentameter of his verse suspiciously mirrors a lot of their music, especially their later work dealing with the Falkland Wars:


Henry: The Official Files:

The newborn years:

Transitioning phase:

Official mugshot:

Counterpoint: Carle

Previously in this Blog That Never Gets Updated In Anyway That Makes Any Sense Whatsoever, I went on a bit of a tyrade that Elisabeth suggested may have scared some people off.   Originally, this was going to be a semblance of an apologia but, since those people are now aparantly scared off, I shall continue my rant:

Eric Carle is inexorably tied to Ms. Boynton in my mind, not just because their books are so often mass gifted but because he's the anti-Boynton.  Were I to ever complete my opus on Beatrix Potter, I would say that, in the world of Ms. Potter, he is the pictures, she is the words.

As I cannot remember all my points against Sandra Boynton and am too lazy to revisit them, I am going to use Eric Carle as a point-by-point refutation of Boynton in three acts, using only my dodgy memory and those books I've read as proof.

Act 1: The Very's:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the first book I read to Henry.  It's great because it's got one great big picture for little eyes to focus on with few enough words per page so those eyes don't get bored.  There's a payoff at the end with a Very Colourful Butterfly to gaze upon.  As Henry has gotten older, he's found the holes in the pages interesting to focus on.

There is an aural, visual, tactile sense going on with the three books in this trilogy.  The Very Busy Spider has a web that the child can feel and encouraging Henry to touch the pages and literally feel the web getting built (As well as seeing it) adds to the story.  The story itself is fairly repetitive but, unlike a certain author whose name rhymes with Sandra Boynton (oops), there is room to play around.  For example, giving each animals who speaks to the spider a different voice.  It helps that the pictures are big and bold and definite.  They are obvious enough so that a young child knows what hey are, yet intricate enough to make you want to keep looking.  They are a far cry from Boynton's stories which are basically made to amuse adults while reading to their child.

Finally, The Very Lonely Firefly works at an age stage higher than the first two.  Here, the pictures are dimmer (in keeping with the story) and have a more complex breakdown as there are speech bubbles added.  Also, the pictures are, in my opinion, scarier.  This all makes sense in the context of a tale about a firefly lost in the night looking for his friends.  I'm particularly partial to the ending and the Christmas light twinkling once (Spoiler!) the Very Lonely Firefly finds his friends.  This last page baffled Henry for a while until one night he finally noticed the firefly's were twinkling and he looked at me, did a triple-take and literally said, I kid you not, "My God, It's full of stars."

What I am poorly articulating is that in these three books, there is a story, art and a moral (Eat right; work hard; don't worry you'll fit in) that is good for kids, re-readable (Hundreds of times) for adults and, above all, interesting.  The story never gets in the way of the art and there is a parental freedom to interpret how you will.

Act 2: The What Do you Sees?

Technically these are not by Eric Carle, he just provided the art.  That said, I believe that somewhere I addressed how Ms. Boynton could have been better served by better writing.  Here, Eric Carle lends his art to an excellent series of books.  The story is straight-forward & repetitive for the kid, the pictures are big & bold, there's a sense that something's going on but you're not quite sure what that something is.

Henry genuinely seems to like these as I'm sure in his world he's hearing & seeing mumble, mumble, PICTURE!  And as the series progresses and the pictures become increasingly detailed, there is more for him to look at.  Honestly, this is what Sandra Boynton should have done a long time, focusing her art on someone else's stories.

(Of course she would then have to do things like draw in detail, make things bold & appealing to children, not the weird adultopods she imagines that the all are, but I digress...)

Act 3: The My Very Firsts:

Henry's not gotten into these yet and, while I have the Very First Book of Words, Shapes, Food & Animal Homes, I also appear to be missing several others including, numbers, colours, motion, animal sounds and bowel movements.  The four I have i got on sale and, while Henry's not old enough to be able to figure them out, they serve two great purposes.

The first is that they're split down the middle which mean that if you're a baby like Henry, there's double the pages to turn!  Carle's bold colours and artwork continue to draw his attention offer him something to do with the book as well as some enjoyment.

The second is that the  bold colours and artwork continue to draw his attention offer him something to do with the book as well as some enjoyment.  Crap.  That's the first one.  I'll come up with points two and maybe even a third once Henry's at the stage where he is able to figure out that a doggie live in a doghouse (The animal homes book is hard.  I've not been able to figure them all out)

The point is that Eric Carle, as opposed to other writers, seems to 'get' kids.  And parents.  When I finish reading Henry one of his books I don't feel like I've made him a target for bullying.


Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Babies

Or, as Elisabeth would have me write, Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Parents.

Caveat 1: I admit that sometimes I have no taste.  Case in point, I hate The Big Lebowski.  I find it stupid, unfunny and basically pointless.  I hear other people think it's great.  They're wrong, of course, but that's their opinion.

Caveat 2: I'm about to criticize a bunch of gifts.  No offence is meant to the gift-givers, I know that this was done in good faith.  I want you to know that your gift was a) appreciated for the gesture and b) appreciated for the rant it provided me.  To be honest, I don't much remember who has given us what.

So, with that in mind, I come to Sandra Boynton.  An author I'd never heard of a few months ago and whose name I now curse.  And not just me, Henry recoils like an adder when he sees a cover of one of her books.  I've brought his reaction up with the owner of the local book store for kids who has told me he's too young to get it and will grow into them, but I feel that the way the aging process works, where a person becomes smarter over time (Until thirty and then you become your parents), this runs counter intuitive to logic and if indeed these books are for older kids, then why are they so stupidly, utterly dumb and offensive?

In all fairness, I'm sure there are stupider things.  Like toy poodles, Juggalo's and de-alcoholized beer.  But these aren't marketed to sensitive, developing brains.  People who buy toy poodles are already functionally retarded.  This is the kind of banal humour for people who thought Family Matters was piss-your-pants funny and who can help but go "Aww," whenever a toddler vomits out its catch phrase in Steve Guttenberg's latest attempt at prime-time relevance.

I thank you all who gave us these books as gifts but they are atrocious and poor old Henry hates them.  The literally make him cry.  They are also horribly morally suspect.  Case in point:

Blue Hat, Green Hat.  In which a retarded turkey in unable to dress itself properly.  It puts on clothes in inappropriate ways and is last seen dressed in too many layers, diving into a swimming pool to presumably drown while all the other better dressed animals who know how to put their clothes on properly, watch on in empty stoned silence.

Throughout this book, the animals gaze into nothingness, do not attempt to help the unfortunate who has crossed their paths and through their passivity let him die.

The Turkey is portrayed as a species (As opposed to the elephant, moose or small cute furry whatever) to be imbecilic, lemming-like and disposable.

But Not The Hippopotamus is another exercise in exclusion as it tells the tale of animals having fun with each other while either ignoring or being blatantly racist to the titular hippopotamus.  Page after page it stares at animals doing fun things until finally they invite him to join them.

The punchline is that as soon as the hippopotamus is allowed into the circle, an armadillo it excluded from it.  Any opportunity to turn this book into a message of inclusivity or to contextualize why it's not okay to ostracize someone is lost for a cheap joke that actually makes light of shyness/exclusion/ favouritism/ racism.  I don't want to go so far as to say the book actually encourages racism but Ms. Boynton has, according to Wikipedia, written more than forty book and four thousand fucking greeting cards.  It's not like she's new at this or learning the ropes or this is her difficult second novel, she's literally produced thousands of works.  She either thinks racism is funny or she is the stupidest children's writer since Chuck VonNasty wrote It's Okay to Poke Your Eye Out, It'll Grow Back in Time For Supper Now Smile and Eat Your Plate of Broken Glass.

But I digress...

Horns To Toes And In Between is about three inbred uncles who are also monsters.  They sing about the parts of their bodies, tickle each other and then dance around, celebrating their morbid obesity.

This is a lazy book with a lazy story and lazy pictures.  It commits the cardinal sin of children's books in being utterly forgettable.  I honestly didn't know we had it for at least a month.

It also features Ms. Boynton's most irritating flourish: The weird circular belly button.  I don't know if it's meant to be cute but it draws unnecessary attention to her creatures nether-regions as well as looks like a sadistic cork lodged in the bellies of all her cute kiddy animals; ready to pop at any moment and spill out their guts until the inbred uncles of Horns to Toes are little more that carpets of a middle-class couples basement.

Belly Button Book! (Yes, that's the title.  No "the" and the exclamation point is thrust in there, forcing you to think this is a fun and/or exciting literary trip you're about to embark upon) feels like an aggressive attempt to make your kid cute by calling it's belly button "bee bo."  This is the kind of humour for stunted adults who think that Saturday's Hi and Lois strip is Bill Hicks level cutting-edge satire.

This is a book geared for older kids (You know this because it's slightly larger than all her other books) to force them to act like younger kids.

Here, the hippopotamus (No longer an ostracized freak) acts like a freak that I'd like to ostracize by devoting its time to loving their so-called bee bo's and going to bee bo positive beaches where they sing songs about their bee bo.  There is a level of forced saccharine jokey wholesomeness that is thrust down your throat throughout this book that I'm left feeling hostile towards Ms. Boynton.  The book itself is pointless.  It's just an attempt to push a catch-phrase that is neither witty or clever or makes any sense at all.

Opposites was one of the, if not the, first books that Henry received and I had high hopes for it.  Just page after page of opposite stuff.  You know, hot/ cold.  On/ off.  Anterior/ posterior.  With corresponding pictures.  The thing that makes this book go from good idea to bad (See what I did there?) is that the words and pictures are such a jumble that it's hard for a kid to know what is going on.

It's here that I might think that the lady in the bookstore had a point.  Maybe Ms. Boynton's books are indeed for kids a mite older then Henry.  But if this is so then why is she writing about such simple notions?  Why is she making dumbed down books for dumbed down kids (Who's parents see nothing wrong with a quaint touch of racism)?  It literally baffles me.

The final book I need to address is The Going To Bed Book.  Just to show I'm not a spiteful jerk, I will admit when I enjoy something.  Even The Big Lebowski made me laugh.  Twice.

This book worked for a while.  Henry enjoyed it and we enjoyed reading it to him.  The thing is, unlike Sandra Boynton's other books, this book is a poem with pictures and the thing that he clues in on is the cadence and rhythm of the voice reading to him.  He's too young to grasp the pictures (Hell, he's too young to grasp anything) but he's able to bounce along with the voice saying stuff.  This is absent in all Susan Boynton's other books (That we own) and were they there, then perhaps Henry would like them as well.

Personally, I don't care for her artistic style (Though literally millions would disagree) but it's irritating that she doesn't ever vary it to reflect the age range that she's writing for.  If the words, pictures and layouts changed for a child's capacity to understand, I might feel very differently.  But they're not.  They're too complicated for young kids and too simple for older ones.  They feel like they've been written by someone who's never had, raised or met children but has a kind of vague understanding of what children are and has geared a career towards that misunderstanding.