Monthly Archives: January 2014

Two Epic Heroines and the Ethics of Care

The Hunger Games trilogy is a fantastic ride, filled with
heartfelt emotion and heart-pumping excitement, but it’s also
a journey of moral development. Along with Katniss, we grow
into a deeper understanding of the complexity of morality and
moral reasoning. Experiencing Katniss’s trials, we come to
recognize that sometimes the answers to ethical questions are
more complicated than the one-size-fits-all answers offered by
the impartial morality of the justice perspective. Above all, we
must follow Katniss’s example of cherishing our memories of
natural caring and letting them instill in us the ideal of ethical
caring. In that way, we prepare ourselves to answer the cry of
a world that’s hungry for people who care.

Averill, Lindsey Issow.“Sometimes the World Is Hungry for People Who Care: Katniss and the Feminist Care Ethic.” The Hunger Games and Philosophy. Ed. Dunn, George A. and Nicolas Michaud. 175-6.
Hunger Games Philosophy
In addition to having read this chapter in The Hunger Games and Philosophy, which discusses Katniss and the ethics of care, I also recently applied the ethics of care to Daenerys Targaryen of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Because both series are wonderful, and Katniss and Daenerys are some of my favorite fictional heroines, I thought I would take some time to discuss my thoughts on them here–in relation to the ethics of care.
What is it about Katniss and Dany that make them both such marvelous heroines? My theory is that one of the reasons why readers find these ladies irresistible not to root for, is because they are deeply caring, humanistic characters who adhere to the ethics of care.
 
katniss
Yes, Katniss may be a bit rough around the edges and have a difficult time expressing her emotions and understanding her own feelings. Yes, Daenerys might occasionally breathe fire. But at their core, they truly care about the people that inhabit their world, most especially the people they consider their family. Averill argues that Katniss moves from the act of natural caring (caring for our family and people who are very close to us) to ethical caring, which is applying that natural care to people who are perhaps tangential in our lives, people on the periphery, or people who are suffering that we have never met before. It is very obvious that Dany makes this sort of progress as well. She begins not just to care for her family (her dragons and her khalasar), but also for the Unsullied soldiers who follow her, and ultimately for the masses of slaves that she frees.
dany
Katniss and Dany are both protectors–both mothers, in their own way. Katniss continually grows to extend her care to all the people of Panem–even people of the Capitol (once considered wasteful, frivolous, and overly privelaged) as Dany extends her care to all slaves (even though a slave women was the original cause of losing her husband and unborn child). Both Katniss and Dany are fierce in their caring–and we love them all the more for being so. There is a lot more the ethics of care that I’m not covering here.
For more reading on the ethics of care, see the very helpful article below:

Held, V. (2008). Gender identity and the ethics of care in globalized society. In R. Whisnant & P. DesAutels (Eds.), Global Feminist Ethics (pp. 43-57). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Also see my thoughts on Daenerys’ care ethics and the privacy of minors (for my Information Ethics course last semester):

Daenerys and the Ethics of Care

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January 28, 2014 · 10:31 pm

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Yesterday I only meant to read a chapter or two of Ocean at the End of the Lane….and ended up being swallowed whole by this marvelous novel and reading it in one night. To steal from Stephen Chbosky, I felt infinite while reading this novel. The writing is lovely, light, and at the same time so deep, it pulled me into its depth. Ocean is a novel about an incident in a seven-year-old-boy’s life, but it is also about so much more: the nature of childhood and adulthood, the nature of friendship, of belonging and not belonging in this world. I wanted to find a quote from the book to put here, to illustrate the marvelous writing. But truly, this book is a work of art. I couldn’t choose a single quote. There are too many beautiful, haunting moments. I have been taking a break from reading fiction for a bit, but I’m glad I came back to it. Ocean was the perfect book to remind me why I love reading fantasy, and fiction in general, and how wonderful and thrilling it can be to escape to a different world for just a short while. This book is really something special–I realize that most of my reviews are positive, but I hope I’ve conveyed in this short review the sense of wonder I felt while reading this novel. It reminded me of what it feels like to be a child, and reminded me that while many years have past–a part of me really is still just a seven year old, slightly scared of the dark.

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January 27, 2014 · 4:51 pm

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter
If you’re a native English speaker and you’ve ever had to take a foreign language class, you’ve probably scratched your head a couple of times while pouring over tables of verb conjugations and asked–my goodness, why is English so weird? It’s a Germanic language…..that acts nothing like German. It has Romantic influences and yet…looks nothing like a Romance language.  John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue tells the tale of English and its unorthodox history from Proto Indo-European to Anglisc (with a bit of Cornish and Welsh) to the Vikings, to the wonderfully mixed language we speak today. This is no boring grammar book, though. McWhorter’s history of English is interesting and engaging. I especially found the chapter on how Celtic languages changed Old English to be fascinating. Ever since visiting Scotland this summer, I have taken a special interest in how Celtic language and culture has survived, despite the Celtic people being marginalized and enslaved. I also really enjoyed the image of Germanic languages being like different species of deer–but English being like a dolphin (they’re still both mammals….but so very different). If you are looking for a great non-fiction read about English (that is actually fun to read), look no further!

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January 26, 2014 · 8:13 pm

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is the story of Amir and Hassan, two boys growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970’s, before the Russian occupation and the eventual Taliban regime. Amir wants so badly to be loved by his father that he often puts his best friend, Hassan, down in order to make himself look and feel more important in his father’s eyes. One day, after an exquisite kite tournament that he has won, Hassan goes to run and capture the blue kite that belongs to Amir as the victor of the tournament. When Hassan doesn’t return immediately, Amir attempts to find him and ends up witnessing an act of violence by Assef, Amir’s nemesis. Amir runs away, afraid to stand up for Hassan. It will haunt him for many years to come, even after he moves to America. Many years later, his father’s former business partner and close friend calls Amir out the blue, offering a chance of redemption, if Amir is brave enough to take it.

This is an emotionally powerful book. From the very first page I was invested in the story of Amir and Hassan. I wanted Amir to make amends with Hassan so badly, I was torn when Amir wouldn’t stand up for him, a friend as close as a brother. Although this is a very bleak story, not only chronicling the inward suffering of a family, but also the horrors that occurred in Afghanistan, I did not want to stop reading. Throughout the novel the recurring images of kites flying bring hope and resonate in the very end, when Amir is teaching Sohrab (Hassan’s son) how to run a kite. I thought The Kite Runner was a powerful, heart-wrenching story that touched me as an adult reader, and certainly would have done the same if I had been my teenage self reading this novel. Although the theme of rape is very present in the novel (Amir is haunted constantly by the image of Hassan after what Assef has done to him), I personally thought that it was very important for understanding the pain and the destruction of so many childhoods and hopes in Afghanistan by its occupation of two violent regimes. And that’s really the importance of the kite; in the end, it is the hope for a childhood, for innocence and happiness again, not just for Sohrab but for the Afghani children also suffering as well.

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January 20, 2014 · 11:38 pm

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone is the memoir of Ishmael, a child soldier in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Ishmael recounts his days just before the war started, and just after it started, when he and various groups of other young boys would travel alone, trying to find a safe place or word of their families. At first Ishmael and his older brother traveled together, but they became separated. Ishmael then traveled alone for some time and was lost for some time in the jungle. Ishmael almost finds his family when he and a group of boys from his school hear that refugees from their home are located in a nearby village. However, there is an attack on that village on the very same day by the rebels, and Ishmael accepts that he is now alone in the world. He and the other boys travel to a village that is occupied by the army. At first the army does not make them fight, but eventually the army recruits them, gives each boy an AK47 and a rousing speech about how the rebels must be destroyed, since they were responsible for the deaths of the boys’ families, and Ishmael’s time as a child soldier begins.

Ishmael’s memories are recounted in such honest, simple, but powerful language. Although there are passages containing gruesome imagery, it is difficult to put this book down. Although Ishmael’s story might not be identical to that of a teenager living in America today, the themes found in his memoir are universal. They include the loneliness of growing up, the pressures of authority, and most important of all: the hope of rehabilitation after witnessing and experiencing immense violence. At first Ishmael is hesitant when he is given the chance of rehabilitation at a UNICEF center for children who fought in the war. He and his friends are recovering from the abuse of multiple drugs as well as trying to come to terms with what happened during the war, the unspeakable violence that they saw and did. However, even throughout this the book did not feel too heavy or the language too dense. The book ends with Ishmael having to flee the country because of the war. I would have liked him to continue his memoir with his remaining young adult years, which he spent in New York, but the book ends before this.

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January 20, 2014 · 11:26 pm

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black

Long time, no blog! I’ve been taking a break from book blogging this winter as it was my last, true winter break as a student! I was truly thankful to have some time to spend on family and leisurely pursuits. And now, I think it is time for me to return to the blogosphere. First up, I will write about Holly Black’s amazing The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which I read all the way back in November.
I was particularly excited to read this book after hearing Holly Black speak at Austin Teen Book Festival, and read some of her vampire-related juvenalia in front of us! And when I was finally able to read it, it didn’t disappoint (I have yet to read anything by Holly Black that does).

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is not your typical teenage, vampire romance. It is so much more. Tana is a teenage girl with a somewhat monstrous past who tries to live a normal life, but wakes up to a nightmare. Tana’s world is the same as our own, only vampirism isn’t a myth, but a very real, infectious disease. Quarantined cities called “Coldtowns” exist where vampires, and those newly infected, must live. And just like our world, humans are obsessed with vampires. From Coldtowns come live feeds (pun intended), reality TV shows, internet GIFs of specific vampires. Now Tana, who has been bitten, must flee to one of the Coldtowns with unlikely traveling companions Gavriel (a half-mad, half-brilliant, enigmatic vampire), her ex-boyfriend who is infected and thirsting for blood, and two runaway teens obsessed with vampirism.

There are two things I instantly loved about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:
1. It has the rich, dark world of vampirism and Holly Black’s writing is so suited for this subject that I’m surprised she hasn’t published more vampire novels in the past.
2. It had vampires. It had teens. But folks, this was no Twilight Saga.

Gavriel might be tortured and smexy (perhaps even more tortured than smexy), but he is no sparkly Edward Cullen. His mind has been bent and broken by pain and he is now hell bent on revenge. Tana is no Bella either. She has one purpose in mind: the survive and outlive the infection inside her bloodstream, to not become Cold like her mother. Tana and Gavriel’s story of survival amidst a chilling, violent atmosphere was immensely compelling to read. Another aspect I like about this novel is that although there is a thread of romance, this is not at all a traditional vampire romance novel. It is about the impact of social media, of violent imagery, that inundates our everyday lives. Monstrous, horrid things happen within the Coldtowns, and yet those on the outside who are watching can’t seem to get enough. The myth of vampirism has always held an intense, morbid fascination with the world and I love that Holly Black wrote a novel that asks–and if it were real, would our world really be different at all?
As a side note, I found this Huffington Post interview with Holly Black to be very interesting, and think you would too (especially if you’ve read the book).

Also, because this was a book about vampires, I felt the need to post a picture of an especially smexy vampire. One of my faves from True Blood.
Eric Northman

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January 12, 2014 · 12:16 am