Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Quality On Tap

I'm giving public kudos to the manufacturer of an increasing number of our faucets: Aquasource ( Because of idiosyncrasies in our home, we've had to make two repairs to a faucet we bought three years ago. All it takes is a call to their customer service department, and a new part is on the way, at no cost to us. 

Better yet, I describe the problem ("The handle on the faucet is getting harder to turn, and water has been dripping underneath the sink when the cold water is on") and customer service identifies the problem and sends the part ("You need a new ceramic three-way valve. We'll send you one. What's your address?).

When the part arrives, I call the same number and have patient, knowledgeable tech support to help me through the repair process (still at no charge). For a reasonable cost, the faucets are reliable and good-looking. We get them at Lowe's.

Now I'm eyeing the upstairs bathroom hardware and wondering how long before I'll have it in the budget to change those . . .

~ emrys

Sunday, February 01, 2015

I'm a Dork

I scanned the shelves of our local Rotary book giveaway kiosk. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl by Rachel Renee Russell (2010) caught my eye. My daughter is now a beginning reader, which means that in the blink of an eye she will be picking up teen fiction. I might as well get a taste of what will be on the school library bookshelves. (The back cover of Dork Diaries states, in understated print, that "this edition is only available for sale . . . through school book clubs and school book fairs.")

The formatting of Russell's book captures the adolescent imagination with its hybridizing of hand-printed typeface on notebook paper and Japanimation cartoons. The latter add humor and poignancy to the repetitive, predictable drama of an adolescent girl's life. I must be clear here, for the drama of adolescent life was for all of us repetitive and predictable: projecting our anxieties on friends, trying to lie to our parents, over-expressing or stuffing our emotions at precisely the wrong times, and fretting over who would go to which dance or party with whom. Russell's character, Nikki, who journals about pedantic youth with the articulate erudition of a college English major (Will my daughter know and use the word "sashay" in seventh grade?), goes through the whole roller-coaster of tweenager life in 279 pages.

It's a page-turner: Will Nikki stay on the good side of her friends? Will Nikki's nemesis (MacKenzie Hollister) completely ruin Nikki's social life? Will Nikki and her BFFs (yes, txt-gen abbreviations are retained for authenticity) rescue the school Halloween party from disaster? It's all the drama you'd expect from the life of a tween "dork." (That term must be clarified, here, as a purely self-referential moniker. All the characters are pretty Anime twigs, the girls indistinguishable except for slight differences in hair style.)

Once, though, Russell peeks with us into the abyss of adolescence. After snubbing the cute boy who is (we intuit) about to ask her to the dance, Nikki writes, "WHY was I acting so crazy? WHY was everything so confusing? WHY was I hurting a person I really cared about?"

Good questions. Of course, tween fiction can't begin to render a response. Even beginning to entertain these Big Questions violates the rules of the genre. Wrestling with the angel of angst must be put off, our existential needs receiving only the bone of a BFF group hug and . . . well, I don't want to spoil the whole ending. But it's fair to say that Nikki isn't yet ready to crack the cocoon of middle school. Which makes me wonder . . .

Does this book have any function besides mindless entertainment? One approach to recovering from difficult events in our lives is to tell our experience to others. In the telling, so one gathers, there is healing. Through the telling comes the therapy. The "Aha!" moments arise from putting to words one's remembered reality. Is there similar value, for tweens, in reading Dork Diaries? Or is it literary bubble gum? To return to the small print on the back cover: Does this genre have educational value?

Or--I continue to wonder--perhaps the value is in my reading such books with my children. Perhaps discussion of whether we should emulate the lives we read in such fiction will provide enrichment and growth. (In which case, God help me if my daughter really likes this material!) Maybe the task is to use the narrative as a mirror for my kids' own lives. Are you really a "dork" because your brain suddenly starts hiccuping around that boy?

A third (non-exclusive) option: Maybe series like Dork Diaries will serve as reading exercise for my kids. Genetically, odds are high that they will become bookworms. And not every book can be The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe one just needs sometimes to read as a way to zone out of the day-to-day world. Maybe my kids will read just for entertainment's sake on occasion, and nothing more. Like . . . bubble gum.

And maybe they'll come away from it knowing words like "sashay."

Thanks, Ms. Russell, for making me think. Now I'm going to put my nose back into some writing on comparative theology.

~ emrys